Residents given chance to save money on bills thanks to energy-saving home improvement scheme

Soaring household energy bills to be tackled by UDC.

Soaring household energy bills to be tackled by UDC. - Credit: Archant

SOARING household energy bills will be tackled with the help of a new climate change strategy aimed at introducing a raft of energy saving measures.

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) has made the issue a priority in a bid to help almost one in five families which are defined as being in fuel poverty in the area.

Both the council’s housing stock and private homeowners will be the focus of encouraging energy saving measures, along with CO2 reduction targets for businesses and the promotion of various Government schemes.

One of those is Green Deal – an initiative aimed at giving residents the chance to make energy-saving home improvements by taking out a loan to be paid back over time on their electricity bills.

Families on low incomes will also have the chance to apply for a grant for improvements.

UDC energy officer Mark Wilson said the authority, in partnership with other councils across Essex, was going out to tender in a bid to agree funding with up to two of the 40 companies appointed to the Green Deal scheme.

“The aim is to draw money into the district so residents can take advantage of it by making energy-saving improvements such as replacement boilers, loft insulation or external wall insulation,” he said.

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“Uttlesford’s unique selling point is the district’s large number of older, solid wall properties, which will be attractive to Green Deal providers because improvements will save more energy than other more minor measures. There are also more than 12,000 properties in off-gas areas.”

It is also hoped making energy efficient improvements to households will drive down the number of excess winter deaths – with cold-related illnesses accounting for 28 per cent of fatalities in Uttlesford last year.

Nationally, the number who have perished this winter is expected to rise by 6,000 on the previous year, up from 24,000 to 30,000, while the problem has been further exacerbated by an extremely cold March.

The district council is to work with GP surgeries and the new West Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, which came into effect on April 1, in an effort to help secure improvement grants for vulnerable people suffering from cold-related illnesses.

Three years ago 16.9pc (5,148) of households in the district were in fuel poverty, defined as needing to spend more than 10pc of its income on fuel to maintain a satisfactory heating regime. But with the average annual gas and electricity bill rising from £1,230 to £1,420 over the past three years – coupled with the ongoing financial crisis – the figure is now believed to be far higher.

Uttlesford submitted its action plan to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change last month. It follows a warning by energy experts of a spike in energy prices because of the drain the unusually cold weather has put on Britain’s dwindling gas supplies.

Fears have also been raised about a “very real risk” of the country being plunged into darkness within the next three years.

Mr Wilson added: “This is all part of the Government’s latest agenda because we’re heading towards an energy crisis – by 2015 there will be a five per cent margin in available energy, so it’s getting tight.

“There are two ways to address this – to build new energy infrastructure and to reduce the demand, because the domestic market consumes a huge amount of gas and electricity.”

Meanwhile, despite the cost of energy on the wholesale market dropping, energy companies are expected to make record profits over the coming year – with regulator Ofgem projecting profits of £110 per household, up from £30 in 2012.

But energy firms have disputed the figures, blaming some of the price hikes on environmental policies to develop greener and more diverse sources of energy.