Assessing the Impact of the Central Heating Programme on Tackling Fuel Poverty: Report on the Second Year of the Programme 2002-2003

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Chapter Nine Ancillary Issues

9.1 The household questionnaire sought information on a variety of ancillary issues that are associated with the fuel poverty debate that may have been effected by the installation of the CHP improvements. These issues include:

  • level of fuel debt
  • prepayment meters and self-disconnection
  • choice of fuel supplier
  • choice of tariffs and ease of payment for fuel
  • use of the whole house
  • improvements in health

Each of these issues will be looked at in turn in this chapter.

The Level of Fuel Debt

9.2 All households were asked about whether they had any outstanding debts or arrears with their electricity or gas supplier or for both before and after the CHP improvements, and any changes since the CHP improvements had been completed. In total,

  • 8 (1.7%) of the households admitted to having a debt with an electricity supplier;
  • 2 (0.4%) of the households admitted to having a debt with a gas supplier; and;
  • 1 (0.02%) household admitted to having a debt with both.

9.3 For the 9 households with a debt to an electricity supplier, all of them stated that this debt had been incurred prior to the installation of the new heating system. The debts ranged in amount from £120 to £1060 44. All but one of the households were in the process of paying the debt off either through weekly or monthly payments agreed with their supplier 45. These arrangements were for either £5 or £10 per week. Since the new heating system had been installed, 8 of the households had reduced the level of their arrears to the point where 6 households had cleared their debt completely, and the other two had halved their debt in the year since the new heating was installed.

9.4 Amongst the 3 households who had incurred a debt with their gas supplier, the level of debt ranged between £300 and £400 before the CHP improvements. All 3 households had cleared their debt completely in the year since the new heating had been installed.

9.5 One household stated that they had incurred a debt with their gas supplier following installation of the new heating system. This had resulted from not being billed for their gas supply for over 18 months after the new heating was installed. The household was paying this off on a weekly basis spread out over a year.

9.6 It cannot be said here that these reductions in fuel debt were directly attributable to CHP improvements. As most of the households had entered into an agreement with their respective fuel supplier prior to the CHP, they would have been paying off these arrears regardless of the CHP improvements. However, for 10 of the 12 households where it was possible to compare their before and after actual fuel expenditure, all were spending less since the new heating was installed. Any saving in fuel expenditure would make it easier to maintain their payment arrangements.

Prepayment Meters and Self-Disconnection

9.7 During the questionnaire households were asked if they paid for their fuel through a prepayment meter ( PPM) either before or after the new heating was installed. Where they indicated that they were, or that they had done so in the past, the households were then asked about whether they ever let the credit on the meter run down to the point where the meter disconnected their supply and the frequency of such occurrences.

9.8 The presence of prepayment meters varied across the sample:

  • 351 households (74.0%) stated that had no PPM either before or after the CHP improvements;
  • 70 households (14.8%) had an electricity PPM before and after (but not a gas PPM;
  • 23 households (4.9%) had an electricity PPM prior to the CHP improvements but had it removed since the heating was installed;
  • 6 households (1.3%) had a PPM for gas and electricity, both before and after the CHP works;
  • 2 households (0.4%) had a gas PPM before and after;
  • 2 households had both a gas and an electricity PPM prior to improvements but had both removed subsequently;
  • 2 households had no PPM prior to the improvements, but had both a gas and an electricity PPM installed since;
  • 1 dwelling which had both an electricity and a gas PPM prior to the CHP improvements had the gas prepayment meter removed subsequently, but retained the electricity PPM.
  • 1 dwelling which had both an electricity and a gas PPM prior to the CHP improvements had the electricity prepayment meter removed subsequently, but retained the gas PPM.

9.9 In total, amongst the households surveyed, 119 households had an electricity PPM, and 23 had a gas PPM at some time. Self-disconnection does not seem to have been much of a problem, either before the CHP improvements or since: 95 (79.8%) of the households with an electricity PPM, and 19 (82.6%) of those with a gas PPM, stated that they had never let the PPM run out of credit. However, 3 (2.5%) of the households with an electricity PPM stated that they had sometimes used the emergency credit facility on the PPM, though that they had not allowed it to run out altogether.

9.10 Amongst the small number of households (that is, 20 with an electricity PPM and 4 with a gas PPM) that stated that they had self-disconnected their supply at some time:

  • 7 (5.9%) of households with an electricity PPM, and 3 (13.0%) with a gas PPM, stated that it had only happened once (all before the new heating had been installed), and they now ensured that it never happened again;
  • 7 (5.9 %) of the households with an electricity PPM, and 1 (4.3%) with a gas PPM, stated that it happened occasionally, that is, they self-disconnected maybe once or twice a year:
  • 4 (3.4%) of households with an electricity PPM stated that they self disconnected regularly, that is, once every one to two months;
  • 4 (3.4%) households with an electricity PPM stated that they self-disconnected frequently, or had self-disconnected frequently, that is, at least once month.

9.11 The was difference in the incidence of self-disconnection before and after the new heating system was installed noted during the survey was that 13 households an electricity PPM, and 1 with gas PPM had not disconnected since the new heating had been installed. Another 5 had had their electric PPM replaced with a credit meter.

9.12 The use of prepayment meters does not appear to be an issue for households surveyed.

Changing Fuel Suppliers

9.13 As part of the household questionnaire, households were asked about their electricity and gas supplier, for both before and after the CHP improvements. Where households had changed either their electricity or gas supplier since the CHP improvements, the householders were asked, 'why had they changed?'

9.14 Overwhelmingly, the majority of households had not switched supplier at all. In total, the households surveyed reported 92 changes of supplier:

  • 51 households reported that they had changed their electricity supplier after the new heating had been installed;
  • 20 households with a gas supply reported that they had changed their gas supplier
  • 11 households reported that they had changed both their gas and electricity gas supplier

9.15 Householders cited a variety of reasons for changing their electricity supplier, but the primary reason would be considered to be for economic reasons, that is, cheaper fuel. Of the 61 households that changed their electricity supplier, and cited a reason,

  • 58.1% stated it was to get a cheaper fuel bill
  • 8.1% stated that they wanted to get their gas and electricity from the same supplier
  • 11.2% stated that they had a preference for a particular supplier
  • 8.1% stated that were changed at the required to change by the CHP
  • 8.1% stated that they changed because of the advice that they received from an energy adviser that visited them as part of the CHP programme
  • 1.6% stated that they changed because they wanted reliable billing
  • 3.2% stated that they changed because of doorstep sales reps.

9.16 The reasons cited by the 30 of the 31 households for changing their gas supply were very similar, both in the variety of reasons, and the relative weightings of the reasons:

  • 54.8% stated that they changed for a cheaper fuel bill
  • 9.6% stated that they changed to get a dual fuel deal
  • 6.5% stated that they had a preference for a particular supplier
  • 3.2% stated that they were required to change by the CHP
  • 6.5% stated that they changed because of doorstep sales reps
  • 6.4% stated that they changed because they wanted reliable billing
  • 12.9% stated that they changed because of the advice that they received from an energy adviser that visited them as part of the CHP programme.

9.17 A small number of the households that changed their supplier may have done so as a result of the CHP (those that stated that they were required to do by the CHP, and those that did so after the energy advice visit which is an integral part of the scheme). Most of the rest did so in search of lower fuel bills or because of a specific preference. These options were available to these households, regardless of the CHP.

Changing Payment Methods or Tariffs

9.18 Again, as part of the household questionnaire, households were asked about the method they used to pay for fuel, both for the periods prior to the CHP improvements, and since. Where households had changed any of their methods of paying for fuel, the householders were asked, 'why they had changed?'

9.19 The methods by which households paid for fuels before and after the CHP improvements are set out in Table 9.1. Amongst those households where a direct comparison can be made (that is, excluding those taking a new supply such as with gas and oil), there is a shift away from paying the bill when it arrives towards a more managed payment method, across all fuels.

Table 9.1: Comparison of methods of payment**

method of payment

electricity

gas

solid fuel

oil

LPG

before

after

before

after

before

after

before

after

before

after

billed ( e.g. quarterly)

151

131

66

47

0

0

1

9

0

0

cash on delivery

0

0

0

0

88

15

3

35

42

4

direct debit

114

152

68

81

0

0

1

3

0

0

standing order

1

2

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

weekly, monthly payment card, scheme or book

68

81

48

55

0

0

0

0

0

0

prepayment meter

108

95

15

10

0

0

0

0

0

0

Fuel Direct

1

1

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

Gave up supply

0

0

0

8

0

0

0

0

0

0

**The figures do not include those households that received a new supply (such as gas).

9.20 With electricity, there has been a slight shift away from quarterly billing and prepayment meters, towards paying for electricity consumption by regular amounts. There is an increase in both the numbers paying for electricity by direct debit and weekly payment methods. Gas customers also show an increase in the number of households paying by direct debit or by a weekly payment scheme subsequent to the CHP improvements, and a drop in those paying quarterly. With solid fuel, there is a large switch away from solid fuel altogether, even for those in receipt of a free fuel subsidy. The purchase of LPG ( i.e. bottled gas), which was used primarily as portable heating before the CHP improvements, has also declined dramatically.

9.21 Amongst those surveyed, 64 households in total (13.5% of the total) stated they had switched their method of paying for electricity. The main reasons cited by households for switching their method of paying for electricity varied:

  • 20 (31.2%) stated that they changed to a cheaper method of payment ( e.g. direct debit);
  • 24 (37.5%) stated that they changed their method of payment for ease and convenience ( e.g. weekly payment card);
  • 9 (14.1%) stated that they had preference for method of payment;
  • 7 (10.9%) stated that they changed at the request of their electricity supplier;
  • 1 stated that they had changed to help reduce an outstanding debt ( i.e. had a prepayment meter installed)
  • 2 (3.1%) stated that they changed because of the advice that they received from an energy adviser that visited them as part of the CHP programme
  • 1 (1.6%) stated that they changed at the request of their landlord

9.22 For those with a gas supply, 26 households (13.1% of all households with gas before the new heating was installed) stated they had switched their method of payment. The main reasons cited for switching the method of paying for gas were as varied as those for electricity and with similar weightings were:

  • 7 (26.9%) stated that they changed to a cheaper method of payment ( e.g. direct debit);
  • 12 (46.2%) stated that they changed for convenience ( e.g. weekly payment card);
  • 2 (7.8%) stated that they had preference for method of payment;
  • 3 (11.5%) stated that they changed at the request from their gas supplier;
  • 2 (7.8%) stated that they changed because of the advice that they received from an energy adviser that visited them as part of the CHP programme

9.23 A small number of the households that changed their supplier may have done so as a result of the CHP (those that stated that they were required to do by the CHP, and those that did so after the energy advice visit which is an integral part of the scheme). Most of the rest did so in search of lower fuel bills or because of a specific preference. These options were available to these households, regardless of the CHP.

Use of the House

9.24 As part of the household questionnaire, all households were asked about the use of each of the rooms in their home in the period (how long) prior and subsequent to the CHP improvements. Their answers were scored on a 5-point scale:

0. never used
1. visitors only
2. occasionally, once a week
3. occasionally, more than once a week
4. daily

9.25 The average scores for each room, derived from this 5-point scale, for the period prior to the CHP improvements are set out in Table 9.2. Generally, the lounge, kitchen, bathroom and hall in homes were used daily. A few households indicated that they did not always use the main bedroom in winter, and a few stated they did not use the lounge. The lowest scores were achieved in the second and third bedrooms. Given the large proportion of single householders within the overall sample, many of these bedrooms were not in regular use, except when visitors came.

Table 9.2: Room Use before CHP improvements

Room

Average Room Use before CHP improvements (maximum 4)

Lounge (n=454)

3.98

Main Bedroom (n=454)

3.95

Second Bedroom (n=352)

2.61

Third Bedroom (n=175)

2.34

Hall (n=452)

4

Kitchen (n=453)

3.99

Bathroom (n=454)

4

Average of other rooms (n=110)

2.98

9.26 All households were asked about whether their use of individual rooms had remained unchanged, had increased, or had decreased subsequent to the CHP improvements. Where the use could be directly compared before and after the new heating was installed, the range of household responses is set out in Table 9.3. What emerges from this assessment of room use is that, with the exception of the kitchen, there is small, net increase in the use of rooms in the home, subsequent to the CHP improvements.

Table 9.3: Room Use after CHP improvements

Frequency of room use

Lounge
No. of households

Main Bedroom
No. of households

Second Bedroom
No. of households

Third Bedroom
No. of households

Hall
No. of households

Kitchen
No. of households

Bathroom
No. of households

Other rooms
No. of households

Less use

1

1

6

1

0

17

0

0

No change

446

449

357

169

446

443

437

106

More use

9

6

11

7

6

7

17

4

Health Improvements

9.27 As a part of this survey, households were asked whether they or anyone else in the home had a long-standing health or medical problem or disability and whether this had changed subsequent to the CHP improvements. No attempt was made to follow up the householders' answers or explore the answers further. The intention of the question was to be no more than a 'self-reported' barometer of the impact of the CHP46.

9.28 Answers to these health questions were received for 746 occupants spread across the 474 households questioned during the survey. Of this total, 456 occupants (61.1% of the total) were reported as having no health problems. Of the 268 individuals that reported a health problem 47:

  • 17.6% were primarily of a respiratory nature ( e.g. asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, chest complaints) either alone or in combination with some other complaint;
  • 36.2% were primarily of a cardiac or circulatory nature ( e.g. angina, heart attack, stroke, heart condition, high blood pressure) either alone or in combination with some other complaint;
  • 45.2% reported a variety of other conditions ( e.g. arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, thyroid problems) either alone or in combination with some other complaint;
  • 0.7% did not state what was wrong or did not know.

9.29 Overall, for those occupants that reported any health problems,

  • 40.4% stated that their condition or problem had not improved
  • 59.5% (that is, 174 householders) reported that their condition or problem had eased or improved subsequent to the CHP improvements.

9.30 Of the group of 174 householders that stated their condition or problem had eased or got better subsequent to the CHP improvements:

  • 24 (13.8%) were classified as having a complaint primarily of a respiratory nature
  • 59 (33.9%) were classified as having a complaint primarily of a cardiac or circulatory nature
  • 84 (48.3%) were classified as having a complaint within the 'other' category, of which the largest group here included those reported suffering from arthritis and rheumatism.
  • 2 (1.1%) did not know what was wrong with them although they felt better

9.31 Despite all of the qualifications that must be applied to the above results, the results from the health questions still look very good. At least a year after installing the new heating system, over half of householders reported they had a medical complaint reported that their condition had eased or improved. Without claiming that the installing of the systems and the improved health are directly linked, the results are positive. No householder reported feeling worse subsequent to the central heating system being installed.

Overall Comment on Chapter Nine

9.32 Subsequent to the CHP improvements, levels of fuel debt have reduced, self- disconnection has not been a significant concern, households have switched suppliers and methods of payments to seek out cheaper fuel bills (though not in large numbers), more of the home is being used, and people are feeling better. While all of these ancillary benefits appear to complement considerably the success of the CHP at reducing fuel poverty, only a small part of these benefits can be attributed directly to the CHP.