Energy experts warn of lockdown consequences on the fuel poor

29th April 2020

With home energy bills expected to soar as a consequence of the Covid-19 lockdown, academics from Sheffield Hallam University have raised concerns that the impact could be more costly for low-income families.

With home energy bills expected to soar as a consequence of the Covid-19 lockdown, academics from Sheffield Hallam University have raised concerns that the impact could be more costly for low-income families.

While total energy consumption has declined with large sections of the economy shutting down, domestic consumption has increased.

Uswitch estimates that home confinement costs families an additional £16 a week due to extra electricity and gas being used for cooking, making hot drinks, televisions, computers and heating.

The increase is more profound for people living in homes with poor energy standards. In normal circumstances, it costs £2,000 more a year to adequately heat an EPC G-rated home compared to an EPC C-rated home. The problem is widespread as the UK has some of the most energy inefficient housing in Europe.

Whilst Ofgem and energy companies have reached agreement to introduce measures for low-income consumers to pause or reduce bill payments, these individuals will still be expected to pay the amounts owed.

Dr Aimee Ambrose, Reader in Energy Policy at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Many are anxious about how they can afford the extra energy costs built up because of home confinement and are rationing their fuel use to cope. And with recession on the horizon, many wonder how they will ever catch up.”

An existing Cochrane review has found that measures which improve thermal comfort in the home can lead to health improvements, especially for those with chronic respiratory disease.

Dr Ambrose added: “While there is no specific research to date on whether warm homes can contribute to tackling Covid-19, the evidence suggests it can play an important role in tacking respiratory illness in general. This includes warm homes enabling immune systems to better fight off viruses; improving the likelihood of people with viruses only suffering mild symptoms; and improving the recovery process for those returning from hospital after receiving treatment for an illness.

“It reinforces the importance of putting every effort into making sure people can afford their energy bills. Schemes that only defer payment may not reassure people who are struggling to pay their bills to keep the heating on.”

The team of academics from the Fuel Poverty Research Network has called on government for a programme which ensures all homes in the UK are warm and affordable is high on its post-coronavirus agenda.

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