Fuel poverty is defined as households having to spend more than 10 % of their total income on energy needs. Key contributory factors are low income, increasing energy prices, as well as high energy costs due to poorly insulated and inefficiently heated homes. There are differences in the approach taken to address fuel poverty and the scope of the measures implemented in the United Kingdom compared to Continental Europe.
The issue of fuel poverty has been the cause of public concern for many years in the United Kingdom. The first programmes to combat fuel poverty were already being set up in the 1990s. In April 2011, the Government launched the ‘Warm House Discount Scheme’, a new programme to combat fuel poverty. The energy utilities are obliged to grant vulnerable customers a discount on their energy costs. In the year 2012, the amount was around £29 million (€35.8 million) and is projected to increase to £35 million (€43 million) in 2015.
In 2012, RWE npower also invested more than £3 million (€3.7 million) to support vulnerable customers in a variety of programmes. RWE npower’s ‘Health Through Warmth Scheme’’ is targeted at people living in cold and damp homes. RWE npower provides support for these people by modernising the heating and insulation of their home. Any vulnerable people do not need to be npower customers to access help.
In Continental Europe, the basic supply of energy to vulnerable households is primarily carried out as the function of state social services. Up to now, companies have therefore been less involved in direct support for households. Rising energy prices significantly raised the profile of energy poverty in the year 2012. A variety of models exist in Germany for effectively acting to reverse energy poverty. RWE already established and promoted the 'Cleverer Kiez' or Smart Neighbourhood project in 2009 in order to gain experience of options leading to solutions. The specific objective is to bring about a change in behaviour with regard to energy consumption in the affected households. We trained people who were currently unemployed as energy consultants. At the same time, this opened up a career perspective for them. Personal support on the ground was a key perspective for the success of the programme. The costs saved on energy and water in some 1,000 of the supported households totalled around than €60,000. In mid-2013, we will hold a national conference where we will exchange experiences with other organisations and programmes.
Programmes have also been launched to address fuel poverty through our companies in Central and Eastern Europe over recent years.
Our Hungarian subsidiary Mátra assists families affected by fuel poverty in the region. In 2012, almost 131 metric t of lignite were provided free of charge and 3,495 metric t of lignite were made available at half price to local government agencies for distribution to vulnerable families. The ELMŰ-ÉMÁSZ Group also combats fuel poverty. In 2012, 12,000 prepaid electricity meters were installed in order to provide the affected customers with improved control over their electricity costs.
In the Czech Republic, we are talking to our customers who are having problems with settling their energy bills. We offer them solutions tailored to the individual situation, e.g. payment plans or the adjustment of advanced payments. We also offer a discount for people who are incapacitated. Customers who hold a disability pass receive a discount of CZK20/MWh on their tariff. 5,000 customers are currently given this discount.