Using public data to tackle fuel poverty - can you help?

13TH MARCH 2012

Fuel poverty affects 560,000 households in London.  In those households, people struggle to heat their homes adequately and as a result many thousands of people live in cold homes which put them at risk of serious ill-health, educational developmental delay in children, mental health problems and, for older people in particular, excess winter deaths. 

Fuel poverty is a specific type of deprivation suffered primarily by vulnerable people whose fuel costs make up a high proportion of their income and who live in energy inefficient homes.  Older Londoners and young people are at a higher risk of suffering the ill effects of fuel poverty.

Poor home energy inefficiency is a key risk factor for fuel poverty - homes that are well insulated and use energy efficiently are much cheaper to heat, bringing down the costs of fuel.  One of the most effective ways to tackle fuel poverty is through programmes normally thought of as relating more to tackling climate change for the future than preventing serious illness and deaths today. 

Programmes like the GLA’s RE:NEW programme could make a real contribution to eradicating fuel poverty in London, but they are not currently designed with this purpose in mind - they are conceived as carbon reduction programmes.  It should be possible to reduce carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty through these programmes, if they are effectively targeted towards households at risk of fuel poverty. 

One of the reasons for the failure to tackle fuel poverty so far, apart from rising energy prices, is that energy companies and other organisations find it difficult to identify homes that might qualify for energy cost discounts and other measures because they don’t have access to household level data. 

We found that this barrier should not get in the way of effective targeting of fuel poverty relief programmes.  Existing open public datasets can be used to identify wards that are likely to contain high proportions of households at risk of fuel poverty, and programmes could be targeted to provide support to households in those areas.  This provides information at a sufficient level of detail to help area-based schemes like the RE:NEW programme to prioritise their time and resources to help those most in need.

We have worked with the GLA’s Intelligence Unit to develop a prototype mapping tool to identify areas in London containing large proportions of households at risk of fuel poverty, using a combination of publicly available datasets.  We want the GLA to further develop and refine this tool so it can be used by the GLA, local authorities and energy companies to identify priority areas for support to tackle fuel poverty.

We will be looking at responses to our report in June, by which time we hope to be looking at a further iteration of the tool that everyone can sign up to and use. 

If you have suggestions for datasets that could be added, or how the tool could be further refined, then please let us know either by commenting on this post, e-mailing us, using the #fuelpoverty Twitter hashtag or replying to @londonassembly

Victoria Borwick, Chair, London Assembly Health and Public Services Committee