Quantifying rural fuel poverty

Examining the extent and character of rural fuel poverty

Project duration: March 2008 to August 2008

How widespread is fuel poverty in rural areas? Is there more of it in the countryside than in towns and cities? And which rural areas have the highest instances of fuel poverty and why?

A research project carried out by the Centre for Sustainable Energy aimed to answer these and other questions concerning the extent and character of rural fuel poverty. The findings were published in a report presented to the funders (eaga Partnership Charitable Trust) in August 2008 which concludes with recommendations for policy-makers dealing with rural affairs fuel poverty.

To download the report, click here.

CSE’s researchers, William Baker, Vicki White and Ian Preston, began by gathering a number of small-area datasets covering gas connectivity, solid wall properties, incidence of fuel poverty, urban and rural area classification, and distribution of Warm Front grants. The datasets were converted to Census Output Area to ensure a common geographical unit could be used for analysis. The data was then mapped, using Geographical Information Systems, and mounted on a dedicated website (www.ruralfuelpoverty.org.uk).

The findings

The research found that the extent of solid walled properties is much higher in rural areas than urban. [Solid walled properties represent a significant fuel poverty risk factor since they have higher fuel costs than properties built with cavities. They are also much more expensive to insulate than cavity walls.]

The same applies to ‘off-gas’ properties which are much more common in rural areas than urban, with the problem increasing as settlements become more dispersed (i.e. from urban areas through towns, villages and then hamlets). Lack of connection to the gas network also represents a significant fuel poverty risk factor because households without gas have to rely on more-expensive fuels, principally electricity or oil.

The research also found that Warm Front grants were concentrated in the cities at the expense of towns, villages and hamlets. The difference is not as great as it was, but nevertheless still suggests that the Government’s main tool for tackling fuel poverty in the private sector in England is not reaching fuel poor households in rural areas.

A number of possible explanations are offered for low Warm Front take up in remote rural areas. They include lower take-up of the benefits that make households to eligible for Warm Front (the so-called ‘passport benefits’), few appropriate measures within the Warm Front ‘package’ and the possibility that ‘high fuel costs’ represent a more significant contributor to fuel poverty than ‘low income’ in remote rural areas.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations for government policy-makers:

1. A recognition of the additional costs of delivering Warm Front in remote rural areas and set targets for delivery of Warm Front in ‘villages’ and ‘hamlets’ proportionate to fuel poverty levels in these settlement types.

2. The funding of efforts to improve take-up of benefits and Warm Front grants in rural areas.

3. More flexible eligibility criteria for Warm Front in cases where there is a clear demonstration of need.

4. Inclusion in Warm Front and related schemes of suitable measures for hard-to-treat properties, such as solid wall insulation, ground and air source heat pumps, biomass boilers, solar thermal and, for larger rural settlements, communal biomass CHP/district heating.

5. A recognition of the additional costs of achieving affordable warmth in hard-to-treat social housing, and ensuring sufficient funds are available for social-housing providers to install the more expensive measure options required.

6. Re-considering the Treasury’s rejection of the proposal in 2006 to extend the gas network to a further 200,000 households.

7. The regulation of oil and LPG suppliers, to include improved consumer protection, transparent pricing and the establishment of easy-pay schemes to enable bulk purchase of oil.

8. The development of both ‘After Housing Costs’ (AHC) and ‘equivalised’ definitions of fuel poverty to enable more meaningful comparisons of fuel poverty in different geographic areas.

For more on all of these policy recommendations, download the report.

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