Headlines: November 22nd, 2010

Households in social housing could fall into fuel poverty because of government cuts to benefits and increased rents according to the New Local Government Network.

The Government has recently announced a 10 per cent cut in the council tax benefit budget, and have also said that those claiming jobseekers allowance for over a year will have their housing benefit cut by 10 per cent. There are currently 3.1 million social housing residents in receipt of means tested benefits in England, including 2.7 million who receive housing benefits. Around 4.9 million across all tenures receive council tax benefit, and a high proportion of social housing tenants are likely to qualify for this owing to their low incomes
The NLGN has warned that 1.1 million households could be affected by the cuts combined with plans to charge 80% of private sector rent for new social housing tenants.

A household is considered to be in fuel poverty if they need to spend more than 10per cent of their income on energy costs in order to achieve an adequate level of warmth. NLGN’s report argues that under the proposed changes, the estimated 628,000 households currently defined as in fuel poverty is likely to increase by 510,000.

The growth of fuel poverty in the social sector is outpacing that in private housing. Recent housing policy changes have the potential to exacerbate the situation, thereby heightening an already disproportionate increase in the number of fuel poor social homes. Pre-emptive action to prevent this is vital.

To reduce the amount that social housing households pay in energy bills, NLGN is calling for the government to build upon its flagship Green Deal policy, which offers loans of up to £6,500 to encourage energy efficiency improvements, which eventually will be paid for by savings from energy bills. NLGN is urging Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne, to introduce new powers immediately to allow tenants to require their landlords to invest in energy efficiency measures such as roof insulation.

It also suggests that the current limit of £6,500 should be increased to allow social landlords to incorporate energy efficiency measures into wider maintenance work to entire blocks of housing. The NLGN report highlights pilots where as much as 20 percent of energy emissions can be saved when whole streets are improved rather than single properties.