Raise awareness of fuel poverty

Rye and Battle Observer letters
Rye and Battle Observer letters

From: Cllr. Sally-Ann Hart, Perryfield House, Udimore

As winter is fast approaching, I thought I might remind readers about the issues surrounding fuel poverty in Rother district and of help available to those who are at risk due to the effects of fuel poverty.

Following various interactions with residents and a local housing association in 2015/16, I brought the issue of fuel poverty to the attention of Rother District Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee.

Rural, coastal Rother District is not an affluent region of the South East. As it ranks little above the national average on the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation, I felt quite strongly that, as a council, we needed to understand the extent of fuel poverty in our area, its impact on health, quality of life, and housing.

We could then consider whether, and if so how, Rother could enable effective solutions to be tailored to the district’s local circumstances and whether there was a ‘working together’ agenda in our community to enable and support co-ordination with relevant initiatives and other agencies, such as the County Council, housing associations and Age UK, for example.

Reducing fuel poverty is important. Nine per cent of households in Rother and over 22,600 homes in East Sussex (nine per cent) are defined as being fuel poor. In the last 5 years, an average of 300+ people each year in East Sussex have died in the winter compared to the rest of the year – a third of these deaths attributable to cold homes (heart, respiratory, strokes).

There is also a cost to the NHS: a 2012 study by Age UK found that ‘the annual cost to the NHS in England of cold homes is £1.36 billion, not to mention the associated cost to social care services, which is likely to be substantial’.

As with all local authorities, Rother District Council is required to publish a Home Energy Conservation Act (HECA) progress report every two years until 2027. While Rother does not have the financial resources, budget or staff working directly to target fuel poverty, it is part of a local partnership, East Sussex Energy Partnership (ESEP), which includes Hastings Borough Council, and was formed to promote home energy efficiency, insulation and renewable measures. ESEP co-ordinates the East Sussex Fuel Poverty Reduction Programme, which aims to protect individuals and communities from the effects of living in a cold home. This is an example of a ‘working together’ agenda in our community to enable and support co-ordination with relevant fuel poverty reduction initiatives.

As far as communication and identification of people at risk of fuel poverty, going forward, and as part of ESEP, Rother District Council is training frontline staff about fuel poverty, assisting residents to get assistance and promoting various local fuel poverty reduction initiatives for vulnerable residents.

It is shocking that fuel poverty is still affecting so many people. As councillors in our communities, we need to raise awareness among landlords, professionals and the public about the risks of fuel poverty, how to keep warm at home and identify vulnerable people who live in a cold home – and refer them for help. Visit www.winterhomecheck.com, www.eastsussex.gov.uk/keepwarm or call 0800 085 1674.