New bid to tackle the thousands in fuel poverty in Norfolk

A task force of county councillors are looking at how to stop vulnerable people having to choose bet

A task force of county councillors are looking at how to stop vulnerable people having to choose between eating or heating.Photo credit: Help the aged/PA. - Credit: PA

Together, we can do more to stop people in Norfolk from having to choose between heating and eating – that is the message from a task force set up to investigate the scale of the problem in the county.

But Norfolk County councillors, who formed a group to look at the issue, are furious that just one of the big six energy companies they approached for information on what is being done to help bothered to write back to the council.

The group of six county councillors and Sam Revill, from Healthwatch Norfolk, has been looking at fuel poverty since the summer.

They wanted to look at the reasons why Norfolk had the highest level of fuel poverty in East Anglia, what services were currently helping tackle it and what more could be done by the county council and other organisations to alleviate it.

County councillor Shelagh Gurney, who chaired the group, said in the report: 'The panel was conscious that the combination of rising energy costs, welfare reform and shrinking local authority budgets could make for a very uncomfortable winter for some of the most vulnerable people in Norfolk.

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'The main focus, therefore, was to find out what more could be done to alleviate fuel poverty in these unpromising circumstances.'

The group met representatives from councils across Norfolk, from Age UK Norfolk, the Norfolk Community Foundation, Norfolk Rural Community Council, Norfolk Housing Alliance, Eastern Landlords Association and the Federation of Master Builders.

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They also wrote to the big six energy companies asking how many homes in Norfolk had benefited from work under the Energy Company Obligation and what they, as major energy suppliers, were doing to help customers find the best possible tariff.

But Mrs Gurney said: 'We are disappointed to report that there has been no response to our letters from National Grid, E.ON and Scottish Power. British Gas, Npower and EDF have telephoned and promised a reply, but at the time of writing, only SSE had provided a written response.'

Just before the group started its work, the definition of fuel poverty changed. The original definition, known as the 10pc definition, was that a household was said to be fuel poor if it needed to spend more than 10pc of its income on fuel to maintain an adequate level of warmth.

But a new definition, the Low Income High Cost (LIHC) definition was introduced in July last year. That works out fuel poverty in a different way, finding a household to be fuel poor if they have required fuel costs that are above average and, were they to spend that amount on fuel, they would be left with an income below the official poverty line.

The differences in definition has produced what the panel described as a 'significant reduction' in the official levels of fuel poverty in Norfolk for 2011, as the table shows.

Under the old measure, North Norfolk and West Norfolk had the highest levels, but under the new definition, Norwich and Great Yarmouth are highest.

From this year, the second definition will become the only one used in discussions about fuel poverty. And Mrs Gurney said that could make it tougher for Norfolk to get resources to tackle the problem.

She said: 'We understand the reasons for changing to the LIHC definition... However, it also appears to us that the change may not be helpful to Norfolk in future discussions about targeting of national resources.'

The Fuel Poverty In Norfolk report will come before members of the county council's community services overview and scrutiny panel when it meets tomorrow.

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