Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Overview and Scrutiny Draft Report on Fuel Poverty

NCC's Overview and Scrutiny committee has had a panel working on fuel poverty and they have now produced a draft report to be considered at their next meeting.

Of course even considering the issue is a good thing and is more than many other councils do and NCC's record on this is quite respectable within the constraints of local government finance.

However, as usual I have found what I consider to be an ommission so I have sent the scrutiny panel the following email -

"I have just read the draft report and I was hoping to draw your attention to what I consider a major omission.

I should first give you some information about my background. I used to be the Team Manager of the Playter Court Welfare Rigghts Service at the City Council before being constructively unfairly dismissed in August 2008. Prior to thatr I was Team Manager for Leicester City Council's welfare rights team and my background in welfare rights and other advice work goes back to 1992. I was deputy Chairman of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers from 2006-08. I live at *** ********* ***** so am a City Council resident. You will probably know me more recently as the writer of the Nottingham City Council LOLs blog but if that tempts you to immediately stop reading I would strongly advise you that would be a mistake.

My first point is to agree that fuel poverty is a combination of income, fuel prices and energy efficiency. I would modify that slightly that expenditure on  and council tax other than fuel plays a major part in the equation as well. If you are spending disproportionate sums on rent and council tax you obviously have less money available for heating. It's also true to say that a person in fuel poverty probably doesn't care where an extra income actually comes from as it long as it means they have more money to spend on keeping warm.

The report makes the point that fuel poverty is 3.3 times higher for private sector tenants than the city average. You will also be aware that housing benefit for this group of people has recently been cut significantly which is likely to make the problem worse. Further cuts to benefits which are planned are likely to exacerbate the situation further.

Something you may or may not be aware of is that one of the government's 'sweeteners' (some would say band aid) is to increase the fund for Discretionary Housing Payments


has been increased by £10m nationwide. I wrote a blog post about this recently so to save time here's a link


Unfortunately, NCC has a very poor record of administering DHPs with a long history of underspending while the vast majority of claims were being refused. The problem with underspending is that your following year's budget is then reduced.


2009/10 was the furst year that NCC even managed to spend the full allocation actually provided by central government, never mind spend any of its own funds that government rules allow it to spend. In 2009, I estimated that, if NCC had managed to spend just the full central government allocation for DHPs i.e. NOT spend any of its own money, then along with the knock-on effects on future allocations around £500k extra would have found its way into the Nottingham economy.


It therefore follows that, if DHPs had been properly managed then a very vulnerable sector may have a much reduced problem with fuel poverty because they would have had more money to spend on keeping warm. This issue is now more urgent than ever because of the increased reliance on DHPs caused by mainstream HB cuts and the increase to the DHP budget.

The big issue here is that it is one of the few situations where NCC actually has some control over what it can do. You cannot force energy companies to drop their prices, you cannot re-write the mainstream HB rules. However, you can choose to properly administer the DHP budget to help the group of people you have identified as being worst affected by fuel poverty and I would strongly recommend that this be added to the report as a viable action point.

I will be publishing this email on my blog as my aim is to widen awareness of DHPs and NCC efforts in this area as much as possible."

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