FUEL POVERTY

The top 3 data-based indicators of Fuel Poverty

Adam Fudakowski, CEO, Switchee

Fuel poverty can be a difficult thing to identify as it doesn’t have many external signs. According to the government’s definition “Fuel poverty in England is measured using the Low Income High Costs (LIHC) indicator.”

Households are considered to be suffering from fuel poverty if they meet the following conditions:

  • They require fuel with costs above the average
  • If they were to spend that amount of money on fuel, they would be pushed below the national poverty line

Identifying fuel poverty early is key to keeping social housing residents in good financial health – as fuel poverty quickly devolves into negative debt cycles that damage the long-term financial stability of a resident. Switchee has been helping combat fuel poverty with some of the largest housing associations and local authorities in the UK and we have come up with three data-based indicators that can help housing providers diagnose fuel poverty quickly and efficiently.

Consistently low temperatures when the property is occupied

This one seems obvious – but detecting it can be tricky. Not every family likes their property heated the same way. Some prefer higher heats, and some prefer lower. Understanding the heating profile of a property first, and then identifying the heating patterns of the individual occupants is the key to understanding whether a family is underheating the property out of comfort or out of a lack of resources. Generally speaking, if a property is consistently seeing temperatures under 15 degrees, we consider the occupants at high risk of fuel poverty. There will be exceptions to this rule, of course, and Switchee usually utilises several different metrics together to generate a fuel poverty likelihood, but the best place to start is understanding the overall heating pattern of the occupants. It is also important to engage these residents even if they are not struggling financially as a property kept consistently at low temperatures can begin to suffer damage to its structure and can cause health issues including respiratory, circulatory and mental health problems.

Consistently low temperatures in a property are a strong indication that something isn’t right

Reluctance to turn on the heating

The second clear indicator of fuel poverty is an overall reluctance to turn on the heating. This is slightly more difficult to diagnose as understanding whether a resident is reluctant or simply doesn’t have the same temperature comfort level as another is challenging. At Switchee we’ve found the easiest way to tell this is to combine two pieces of information – the overall pattern of heating to understand a resident’s required temperature, as well as the delay in increasing the heating after cold weather hits. These two statistics tell you whether a resident is holding off turning on the heat until it becomes too uncomfortable. An example of behaviour that indicates fuel poverty would be a delay of a day or two in turning the heating on and then turning the heating up high for a few hours then shutting it off. This can either be an indication of a resident not understanding how to utilise their heating effectively or an indicator that they are unable to keep their heating on for long periods due to financial restraints. Either way – the resident should be contacted and educated/assisted where appropriate.

    Current level of rent arrears

    The final indicator is a resident’s current rent arrears situation. This indicator is not always reliable, so it has to be utilised in combination with the two others above, but a current resident’s rent arrears does factor in when trying to understand someone’s current financial situation. Residents who have consistently fallen in to rent arrears without any other indicators for cause are likely having trouble paying their bills. This will inevitably affect their ability to pay increasingly expensive fuel bills. When this information is combined with data on heating patterns it can help to identify early cases of fuel poverty.

    Data can help diagnose fuel poverty, but it still requires the human touch

    All of this data is helping to get resident liaison officers into properties much earlier in the process, but it doesn’t replace the job of dealing with fuel poverty. Getting in to help earlier helps to avert some of the worst effects – including health problems and even death – but it still requires a skilled professional to help sort out the issue. Our hope here at Switchee is that through early identification we can stop the 3000 people a year that die from fuel poverty.

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