The Department of Energy and Climate Change appears to be in the difficult position of being committed to two potentially conflicting strands of policy development. On the one hand it is producing a new strategy to address fuel poverty (its predecessor having conspicuously failed, with fuel-poor households at a historic high), while at the same time it is consulting on proposals to lower energy bills by reducing the surcharges – “green taxes” – that fund fuel-poverty work.
Energy secretary Ed Davey launched a consultation in March with an upbeat speech on the future of the energy company obligation (ECO), the levy on energy suppliers that supports energy efficiency improvements. Extending its reach to 2017, he rightly said that “the obligations under ECO that meet the needs of the fuel poor cannot be compromised”.
The problem is that the programme was already woefully thin. ECO funding supports the installation of energy-efficiency measures such as new boilers, which the energy companies can provide in a cost-effective way. Yet there is no obligation on companies to consider properties as a whole, making them sufficiently thermally efficient so that the household can keep adequately warm at an affordable cost. The benefits of a new boiler will be seriously undermined if a home still has draughty windows and a lack of insulation.