UK Government

Commission for Rural Communities: Major national initiative to tackle rural fuel poverty

Press Release   •   Dec 10, 2009 11:51 GMT

A major pilot project is being launched this week by the Commission for Rural Communities in partnership with the Rural Services Network.

Three areas of the country − County Durham, East Riding and Shropshire − have been chosen for the project, based on statistical data that shows high levels of fuel poverty, properties off the gas network and ‘hard to heat’ houses, all of which can result in people living in cold, damp homes. The project known as ‘Hands Up’ aims to ensure a better understanding of the effect high fuel costs is having on the health, financial and overall wellbeing of people living in rural areas. It will also seek to understand what impact this is having on service providers such as the NHS, and the local economy.

Graham Russell, Executive Director, Commission for Rural Communities said: “More than 21% of households in villages, isolated dwellings and hamlets are living in fuel poverty, compared to just 12% of households in urban areas. For the first time, rural communities are being consulted on the practicalities of heating and insulating their homes, including the particular effects of being ‘off-gas’. We want people to make their views known so we can work with Government to ensure programmes are effectively targeted at meeting the needs of rural communities and make the best possible impact in alleviating these issues.”

Graham Biggs, Chief Executive, Rural Services Network said: “This project is about getting the right services and support into rural communities to address fuel costs, improve energy efficiency and helping reduce those health issues that are exacerbated by living in cold damp homes. We know for example that households who are not connected to the gas network and older solid wall properties are paying on average £700 more per year than those households using gas to heat their home. Many people just cannot afford these costs and subsequently, this can have a very serious effect on people’s health and wellbeing and in some instances forcing people to choose between 'eating or heating'. We are also trying to gain evidence to influence national policy to address these issues in rural areas across England.”

‘Hands Up’ will involve around 7,500 households being asked to provide information about their health and financial wellbeing, what type of fuel they use to heat their home and what concerns they have in relation to affordability or health issues. Based on responses and working with local partners the project will look at what solutions on a ‘house-by house’ basis can be put in place to reduce fuel bills, save people money and make homes warmer and healthier to live in. Everyone who takes part in the project will receive a carbon monoxide detector and or/energy light bulbs and will be included in a draw for £100 food vouchers.


For further information contact Chris Wynne-Davies on 01242 534070

Notes for editors:

1. A household is said to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel to maintain a satisfactory heating regime (usually 21 degrees Celsius for the main living areas and 18 degrees for other occupied rooms).

• 21.3% of households in villages, isolated dwellings and hamlets are living in fuel poverty (Source: BRE / English Housing Condition Survey).
• 34% of all rural households are solid wall properties (Hard to Treat Homes) which are more difficult and expensive to insulate (Source: Centre for Sustainable Energy Report to Eaga Partnership Charitable Trust from July 2008).

• 36% of all rural households have no mains gas and rely on more expensive heating oil, LPG and coal to heat their homes ((Source: Centre for Sustainable Energy Report to Eaga Partnership Charitable Trust from July 2008).

• 50% of homes in sparse areas and 25% in village centres have a SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy Efficiency) below 30, compared to 8% in urban areas. A SAP rating below 35 is classified as an extremely energy inefficient home and a significant health hazard. (Source: the English Housing Condition Survey of 2006).

• Hard to treat homes (off mains gas and solid wall) account for over 50% of the UK’s total carbon emissions from housing (Source: the English Housing Condition Survey of 2006).

2. The link between poor health and people living in cold, damp and poorly ventilated homes should not be ignored. Cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, are known to be exacerbated when people are living in such conditions. Age UK has highlighted that many falls amongst older people can be attributed to such poor living conditions.

A two-day stay to treat hypothermia in an NHS hospital costs an average of approximately £1,400. The average length of stay for people with hypothermia is 18.9 days – an average treatment cost to the NHS of £13,230.

In 2006, 1,759 people across the UK between the ages of 60-80 were admitted through Accident and Emergency with pneumonia which represents 34,777 bed days, an overall cost to the NHS of almost a quarter of a million pounds (£243,439). Clearly not all of those admissions were the direct result of poorly heated, damp homes; however, feedback from NHS staff states that these are contributory factors, especially in relation to older people.

An estimated 400,000 Cancer patients need help with paying their fuel bills (Source: Cancer Backup).

3. The Commission for Rural Communities acts as the advocate for England’s rural communities, as an expert adviser to government, and as a watchdog to ensure that government actions, policies and programmes recognise and respond effectively to rural needs, with a particular focus on disadvantage.

It has three key functions:

Rural advocate:
the voice for rural people, businesses and communities

Expert adviser:
giving evidence-based, objective advice to government and others

Independent watchdog:
monitoring, reporting on and seeking to mainstream rural into the delivery of policies nationally, regionally and locally.

4. The Rural Services Network is a membership body consisting of local authorities (County, District and Unitary), other major public service providers (such as Police, Fire and Rescue, Ambulance, Health Trusts and Primary Care Trusts, Colleges, Housing Association, Bus and Train Operators etc) and a host of other rural interest groups including from the private and voluntary/community sectors. It also has a ‘Community Group’ of Parish/Town Councils, Primary Schools, local businesses etc. It communicates key rural news and analysis to over 18,000 people weekly. The RSN is devoted to safeguarding and improving services in rural communities across England.

More information can be found at

CRC 29/09


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