On 3rd June 2016 I participated in a fuel poverty workshop organised by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The workshop was also attended by stakeholders from various local governments across the north-west of England, some voluntary fuel poverty groups, and researchers from the University of Salford.
The purpose of the event was to help the Greater Manchester Environment Team develop a new fuel poverty assistance program across the area. Currently, only some local authorities within Greater Manchester have such assistance policies.
Working in small groups, a number of interesting topics were debated. One focussed on how to best target fuel poor residents – here it was mostly agreed that approaches based solely on age or benefit eligibility are inadequate. There was some support for focussing on specific areas of both low income and energy inefficient housing, as it was felt this would be both more accurately target those in need of help and be a more strategic approach. However, continuing to have some additional support measures available for individual households living outside of these designated geographic zones was recognised as essential. Another topic discussed was how to finance energy efficiency improvements. Alongside grant funding from local and national government, low- or zero-interest loans and equity releases from homes were put forward as possibilities – especially as the current ‘austerity’ climate makes the provision of grant funding more difficult.
The next stage in developing the assistance program is to draft a strategy based upon findings from the stakeholder workshops. This will then be presented to the Greater Manchester Health and Fuel Poverty Group and the Low Carbon Hub Group for approval. Following this, the program will seek funding from health and utility organisations, with the aim of having the money available by the financial year 2017-18.
I found the event to be very interesting and productive. It was fascinating to hear about the huge breadth of exciting fuel poverty alleviation projects that have been happening at the local level here in the north-west of England. We’ll continue to engage with the GM Environment Team into the future; for example, myself and Harriet Thomson hope to present EVALUATE research at a future monthly meeting.
A final point: the Greater Manchester Environment Team is also currently helping to run a free scheme in which inefficient boilers can be replaced with more efficient models, helping to reduce energy use – and so also lower energy bills and carbon emissions. Follow the link to find out more and see if you’re eligible.