OPINION: Expect steep rises in your energy bills

North Devon Gazette

A few days ago, I received an email from my gas and electric supplier reminding me to send them a meter reading so that my bill could be more accurate than an estimated one.Â

As a result of not have a decent mobile signal in my area I still have to report manually. As I reflected on the high energy costs which are very much in the news at the moment it is a real concern that many residents in North Devon are living in fuel poverty and without action this is likely to get worse.Â

Even before the pandemic, there were 3.2 million households in England (13.4% of all households in the country) living in fuel poverty, according to the government's statistics, for 2019. It is a real concern that from April, higher gas and electricity bills will coincide with scheduled tax increases and rapid inflation for other goods and services, which is eroding real disposable incomes.Â

What is meant by fuel poverty? A household is said to be in fuel poverty when its members cannot afford to keep adequately warm at a reasonable cost, given their income. A household was considered to be in fuel poverty when it needed to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel – or energy as it is often called. A newer definition states that a household is said to be in fuel poverty if they have required fuel costs that are above average and were they to spend that amount they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line. This also uses a fuel poverty gap - i.e. the difference between a household’s 'modelled' (average) bill and what their bill would need to be for them to no longer be fuel poor.Â

It was no doubt with this in mind that councillor Helen Walker submitted the following question to me for reply at the last full NDC meeting:Â

“With the growing concern about the rising costs of fuel for households, as a council can we highlight energy savings advice and where grants may be available for the improvement of energy efficiency to homes. Along with this could councillors highlight any such schemes they find to our comms team to be able to be shared on our media platforms.”Â

In my reply I stressed that the council is taking what action it can to help to minimize the number of households who are living in fuel poverty in North Devon. We know that many people have already faced steep rises in their energy bills following the surge in the global energy market and there is a looming energy price hike in April, when the regulator Ofgem declares the new price setting formula. As a result, NDC is launching a new web page for homeowners, tenants and landlords. The web page will be dedicated to supporting an increase in energy efficiency, reducing fuel poverty and increasing the take-up of renewables.Â

We will use the recent LAD3 funding award and approval of service plan actions related to energy efficiency by NDC to promote this new online service through a press release, social media and direct media bulletins.Â

In the medium term, our web page will show short video clips, with local residents talking about the benefits of the services they have reviewed. This will hopefully promote customer confidence and encourage take-up.Â

The scope and potential for positive impact of our ‘community offer’ is significant but the local landscape is complex including ECO, ECO Flex, BCF Warm Up Grants, Green Homes’ Grants (LAD 2), Sustainable Warmth Grants (LAD 3), Energy Redress Scheme, Bespoke home energy advice service for DFG and Homeless Applicants and Regulation of MEES.Â

We hope to encourage grant take-up by providing comprehensive, clear and straightforward advice and by commissioning trusted assessors. This programme of work is a priority for action for the council and hopefully will be of real value to residents.