Ministers must work harder to fight fuel poverty

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FUEL poverty is a “particular problem” for elderly people in rural areas and is being exacerbated by the Government’s failure to understand the needs of people living in the countryside, a leading energy firm has warned.

Calor Gas, which provides much of the off-grid fuel to people living in remote areas, said it is expecting rates of fuel poverty to increase yet again when the Government releases its next set of figures in the coming weeks.

Speaking before a committee of MPs, Holly Sims, corporate affairs manager at Calor Gas, said Ministers need to do more to ensure poor and vulnerable people living in rural areas are not excluded from many of the schemes set up to combat fuel poverty.

“We know it’s a problem and we know it’s a particular problem in rural areas,” she said. “We think that trend is just going to go on increasing.”

She told members of the environment select committee that Ministers could do more to help rural homeowners, and warned that the Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) the Government insists must be produced for every home actually penalise people in rural areas who are forced to pay more for their fuel,

“We’re very concerned,” she said. “We believe the current structure of an EPC is written in the wrong way.

“At the moment the rating for the building is placed on the cost of the fuel. Obviously off-grid fuels are more expensive than natural gas, so therefore any home in a rural area will automatically score lower than that exact building would score in an urban area.”

As a result, she said, many rural homes do not qualify for Government support schemes because they are designated as inefficient.

Next month the Government will launch its so-called ‘Green Deal’ initiative, a flagship policy in which people will be able to undertake major home improvements to make their houses more fuel efficient without paying a penny up front.

But Ms Sims warned: “We’ve seen with previous assistance schemes that the vast majority of funding has gone to urban housing, and rural housing really has been left behind in those schemes. We know that it hasn’t been effectively delivered.”

She told MPs a key issue was getting people to admit they were facing difficulties with their bills.

“If there’s something Calor’s learnt from our work in rural areas, it is that you have to dig deep into rural communities,” she said.

“People won’t come forward, and particularly if they’re struggling they won’t come forward because of the stigma that’s attached to it.”