The next Government should introduce a root and branch reform of the approach which it takes to identifying those who are most in need of energy efficiency measures. This would ensure the efficient roll out of a national infrastructure programme based on improving the energy efficiency of every home in the UK, a programme which would mean that the UK can pay off its national debt more quickly and reduce household energy bills for everyone.
As Chair of the NRFC’s Data Matching Working Group, in recent weeks I have chaired a series of workshops to develop proposals that would revolutionise the way in which we help those who are suffering with cold, damp and poorly lit homes. The working group, which has representatives from local authorities, charities and the energy sector, has met to develop detailed plans that can support the NRFC’s joint campaign, with the Energy Bill Revolution http://www.energybillrevolution.org, for a national energy efficiency plan, as part of the UK’s Infrastructure Programme.
At its core, the argument is about efficiency and fairness. Those that are most vulnerable to fuel poverty should be the first to receive assistance. Equipping them with a warm and well lit home, increases their life chances, reduces costs on the health sector and saves on energy bills. The challenge is in overcoming the inability of organisations to access and appropriately analyse relevant data sources, such that they are able to effectively target appropriate fuel poverty measures to the most vulnerable, in a cost effective way.
Identifying those households who are most at need is a significant challenge. It requires matching information on income levels and housing energy efficiency, whilst including further information, such as health data, to understand the vulnerability of a particular household.
Some of this data is held at national level, but is not accessible by local government, who then must turn to using proxies to identify those who should be targeted. Where data is stored, it is often held by different departments, which are often unwilling to share household data across their respective organisations due to concerns of data protection.
In addition, the level of granularity of data sources can vary. It is often the case that more resource is used in accessing and manipulating the data rather than delivering actual measures for fuel poor households. This is often a challenge to far for organisations that do not have an appropriate system to overlay all the required data sources, or indeed the resources to undertake such a task.
Finally, there is a need for long term certainty on the data that is used in eligibility criteria for support measures. This will determine how well delivery agents are able to identify residents eligible for support.
The NRFC is making a number of recommendations to all of the political parties.
First, we need more open access to relevant data sources. This includes not only income and energy performance data (EPC) but also benefits and health data. Enabling more open access to data sources, requires greater cooperation between government and delivery agents in the sharing of sharing data. Improving dialogue between these bodies is a sensible first step to building an understanding of the specific data needs of each group.
Second, energy efficiency measures must be made more widely available, particularly to the most vulnerable. There are too many examples of where the most vulnerable fall outside of the qualifying criteria for support. This must not happen.
Third, there must be a greater reliance of trusted intermediaries in the delivery of energy efficiency measures. This is only possible where long-term commitments have been made to a) the available measures and b) a commitment to the groups delivering the measures.
There is a growing consensus amongst the political parties that the innovative use of ‘Big Data’ is the key to the UK’s future economic success http://thegovlab.org/open-data-could-unlock-230-billion-in-energy-efficiency-savings/. The challenge of making data more openly available so that charities, local authorities and other trusted actors can effectively and fairly target fuel poverty measures should, therefore, come as a welcome one.