This article was produced by Stephanie Pugh from Capital Law.
In line with the pledge of the Welsh Government to tackle fuel poverty by 2035, the Cold Weather Resilience Plan (“the Plan”) was published in December 2021.
With the national energy crisis estimating domestic energy prices to rise by up to 50% by Spring, it’s never been more important for the Welsh Government to show their commitment to identifying, prioritising and protecting those vulnerable to the effects of a cold home. The Plan promises exactly this, with its threefold focus;
- To provide advice and support to vulnerable and lower income households to support householders to better prepare for cold weather.
- To help low-income householders maintain/improve the energy and thermal efficiency of their homes, and;
- To work with partners to better co-ordinate advice and support services to vulnerable and lower income households to reduce the risk of avoidable ill health resulting from living in a cold home.
The Chilling Reality: effects of a cold home
A 2019 report by Public Health Wales highlighted the various effects of cold and damp homes on a person’s health. The report indicated during the winter months, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases account for over half of excess winter deaths (“EWDs”). Both health complications can be directly linked to lower body temperatures. Other illnesses, such as dementia and mental health issues were also found to be leading causes of EWDs, linked to the effects of a cold home.
The Plan will prioritize those believed to be most susceptible to the risks of the above, being:
- A person aged 60 and over
- A dependent child or children under the age of 16
- A single person aged under 25
- A person living with a long-term illness or who is disabled
To be specific about the harsh reality of the energy crisis in isolation, it is estimated that around 10% of EWDs are directly attributable to fuel poverty, and not merely the unavoidable cold of winter.
The Welsh Government’s current measures to combat cold homes
Those vulnerable in Wales will have the benefit of UK Government Schemes, such as Cold Weather payments, the Winter Fuel Payment, and the Warm Homes discount. However, the Welsh Government has introduced additional support measures to those suffering from cold homes in Wales.
The Welsh Government Discretionary Assistance Fund (“the Fund”) can be accessed by people in Wales experiencing financial hardship, where they are unable to meet their food, gas or electricity needs via an Emergency Assistance Payment. The fund also extends to where a call out fee for a gas safe engineer and minor repairs cannot be met, via an Individual Assistance Payment. Both payments are a non-repayable grant, available upon meeting the criteria. More information is available on the Welsh Government's website.
Further, the Winter Fuel Support Scheme, which was introduced in December 2021, will allow eligible people in Wales to claim a one-off payment of £100 from their local authority, to assist in meeting their rising winter fuel bills.
Housing Authorities and their community development teams have a critical role to play in alerting tenants to these schemes and helping them apply for the provisions that the Welsh Government makes available.
As we look to 2035…
Moving forward, the Welsh Government has proposed a number of actions and commitments to enable the objectives of the Plan to be achieved. These include:
- Publicising the need to get ready for cold weather, to allow vulnerable people to access effective warm home advice and the support services available.
- Co-ordinating action to secure inward investment for domestic energy efficiency improvement.
- Improving access to home energy efficiency for people at risk of avoidable ill health, but not in receipt of means tested benefits.
- Referring households in arrears with their energy bills to schemes delivering home energy efficiency improvements to reduce the cost of energy needed to maintain a safe temperature and;
- Co-ordinating action between public and third sector energy suppliers to improve cold weather resilience.
- Encouraging landlords in the social housing and private rented sector to urge tenants to report maintenance issues. Registered Social Landlords should be encouraging tenants to report maintenance issues, and all maintenance issues affecting thermal efficiency must be prioritised.
With numerous schemes in place, and the willingness of the Welsh Government to improve them further, those considered most vulnerable to cold homes should be rest assured as we navigate through the energy crisis.
For those who are in need, access to the Winter Fuel Payment can be found on your Local Authorities webpage. For more information and applications for the for the Welsh Government Discretionary Fund, please refer to the guidance on the Discretionary Assistance Fund page on the Welsh Government's website.