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Magical or Mythical 10%

posted by Dale Hoyland on 25 November 2011

tags: fuel poverty , affordable warmth , Green Deal ,

Thermal image of house leaking heat

Is the definition of a household being in 'fuel poverty' if spending more than 10% of their household income on achieving 'adequate warmth' appropriate? Is the figure of 10% a good enough measure which fits most scenarios?

Or, is it fabricated, with very little meaning? Well, DECC have announced a meeting to take place on the 6th December to discuss and reflect on different aspects of the measurement of fuel poverty, including efforts to improve the quality of its measurement.

'Adequate warmth' is usually defined as achieving a temperature of 21 degrees Celsius in the mail living area, and 18 degrees in other occupied rooms. Where there are mobility problems, or health conditions which are exacerbated by excess cold, the above temperatures may be raised by 2 degrees.

Fuel poverty is calculated by a very simple formula:

Fuel poverty ratio = Required fuel costs (required usage X price)

                                              household income

If the resulting ratio is greater than 0.1 then the household is said to be fuel poor. There are a number of factors which affect this ratio.


Income of the household - with increases in redundancies and more people out-of-work, the number of households receiving lower incomes is increasing.

 Fuel prices - these have increased sharply over the past few months alone, making each unit of energy more expensive to obtain, so money doesn't go as far, and bills inevitably increase in order to achieve adequate warmth.

Outside temperature - a colder than average winter (such as that experienced last year) results in a greater heat-input requirement to achieve the same temperature inside the house. With a greater temperature difference inside:outside (Δt), the losses are greater, so energy loading is at an increased amount throughout colder temperature periods.

Efficiency and occupation patterns - if the occupation of a building changes (e.g. more time is suddenly spent at home due to a loss of a job, or a child is born etc) then the energy requirements will also change accordingly. The efficiency of both the building (insulation/draught excluding) and occupant behaviour (making efficient use of the heating system, and lifestyle) also has a large impact on how much expenditure is required in order to achieve thermal comfort.

The household income and outside temperature (this winter 2011/12 also predicted to be particularly harsh) can both fluctuate. Energy prices are likely to go in one direction; prices continuing to increase. However, whilst occupation patterns of a building can vary, the efficiency of a building rarely gets worse, and is an area where the resident can make a real difference through both insulation and occupant behaviour.

Let's cover insulation first; it's something I've been talking about and promoting for the past three years that I've been with USEA - old news? Ah, but not old news anymore, because I have another excuse to bring it to the fore-front of discussion again!

This is the final winter that CERT funding is available for loft and cavity wall insulation (provided by the 'big six' energy companies). This gives householders most of the cost to have these works carried out (in cases of a householder being over 70 years of age, or in receipt of qualifying benefits, CERT funding can provide 100% of the cost).

The 'Green Deal', due to come into force Autumn 2012, is a low-interest loan scheme. Although funds will be made available up-front to cover the cost of works, it won't be a grant, so the cost will need to be paid back eventually, and will be far greater than costs of such work now (several hundred £'s).

So the message? If you're lucky enough to have a house with cavity walls, and/or a loft which can be filled with up to a foot (30cm) of insulation, get your name down now. USEA's CocoonYourHome comparison service is fast, friendly and makes the process simple, whilst accessing all available grants (many of which will not be available through other organisations).

Finally; occupant behaviour. I have recently had the challenge (and absolute pleasure) of taking over as project manager for USEA's Affordable Warmth Networks across Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. I'm a great believer in knowledge and education, and through the events and talks I give, I try to provide insight into simple things that each and every person can do which will not only save them money, but collectively make a real difference to the world we live in. Many things don't have a cost associated with it, and don't reduce the quality of lifestyle to which we're accustomed.

In summary, is the 10% figure a magical number which works, or a mythical one created just for the definition in order to provide a cut-off point? I don't have all the answers - but I'd welcome your comments below on this subject, as each of us has a valuable opinion to give; something which DECC too has realised, hence the forthcoming meeting in December on this very subject...

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