lobal warming may be hitting the headlines, but fuel poverty is still hitting hard around the UK. Grants to help with inefficient heating and insulation, such as those offered through the Government's Warm Front scheme and by local authorities, have helped. However, about four million households across the UK are spending more than 10 per cent of their income simply on keeping warm, according to the charity National Energy Action.
"Fuel poverty is part of a complex picture, linked to multiple deprivation, unaffordable fuel prices and poor housing stock characterised by inadequate insulation and inefficient heating systems," says Allan Asher of the group Energywatch. It's also an issue for organisations that provide housing or short-term accommodation. The environmental aspects aside, fuel costs hit both residents and providers - and many residents have little money in the first place.
However, other funding is available to combat the problem. Most of it comes from trusts related to energy boards - for example, the EDF Energy Trust, which is linked to the company EDF Energy, makes grants to individuals as well as groups. Others make grants only to organisations. One organisation to benefit is Inverness Women's Aid, which has been able to upgrade 12 of the flats it runs for beneficiaries with energy-efficient washing machines, high tog rating duvets and thermal curtains, all with a grant of more than £5,000 from the ScottishPower Energy People Trust. The trust makes grants mainly to UK projects aimed at helping families with children.
All the upgrades will make a considerable difference to the energy efficiency of the flats, with a direct financial effect on the families who use them.
"Most of the people we support are on benefits, and the few who are working are on low incomes," explains refuge co-ordinator Kate Donaghy. "There are meters in the flats, and people pay as they go. They pay to use the machines in the communal laundry as well, which means they're seeing direct savings. We're saving as well, because the new duvets mean we're not having to supply extra blankets."
Donaghy recommends applying for similar grants. "It is always worth applying," she says. "It's a saving both to the service provider and the service user."