Published: 13 December 2023
Households in areas hit hardest by fuel poverty are not benefiting most from the government’s flagship energy support scheme, a damning report has found.
Experts examining the impact of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) showed it is not targeting the places in urgent need of support.
The scheme, which was launched in 2012, pledged to cut bills for low-income households by improving insulation and focusing support on those in fuel poverty.
Academics from Southampton and Bristol universities published the report in the journal of Energy Research and Social Science.
They also warned that low-income homes would be “further entrenched in energy deprivation” if the government decides to revise its plans to fund the programme through fuel bills.
Report co-author Dr Paul Bridgen, from the University of Southampton, said the ECO is supposed to be the government’s flagship initiative to combat fuel poverty but the programme is flawed.
He added: “Homes in locations which are suffering the most from rising energy bills are not being helped the most and, worryingly, richer households are almost as likely to benefit.
“There is a sense that the fuel poverty crisis is finished but this is far from true.”
Since it was relaunched in its new format last year, the ECO programme has only upgraded around 65,000 households in the UK, according to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
Its critics have claimed it is too slow and could take nearly 200 years to improve eligible homes, or 300 years for the government to meet its own targets to abolish fuel poverty.
The Southampton and Bristol social scientists based the study on government estimates for fuel poverty from 317 local authorities from 2012 to 2020.
They ranked all areas of the UK into five groups based on the severity of their energy poverty, from lowest to highest, and tracked their performances across the decade.
According to the experts, the ECO had mixed results in targeting people in the most energy deprived group, with an average of just 71 households per 1,000 receiving any home installations or upgrades.
Co-author Dr Caitlin Robinson from the University of Bristol said: “The scheme is not particularly effective at targeting areas of England that have been dealing with persistent fuel poverty.
“To properly address fuel poverty, the government needs to look at the extreme and long-standing issues of fuel poverty in certain places and then fund energy-efficiency home improvements using local councils.
“But first, ministers must indicate quickly that funding for the ECO does not return to household energy bills. If this happens, some of the most fuel-poor homes will be paying for a scheme from which they get no help.”
Read the full report in the journal of Energy Research and Social Science at doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2023.103139.