Loss of funding for gas repairs 'could kill' this winter

By agency reporter
November 14, 2017

Two charities are warning that a loss of funding for repairs and replacements of gas heating appliances will badly damage thousands of people’s health and well-being, and could even kill this winter. They claim there is now virtually no support provided nationally from current schemes, despite one in ten households not being able to afford to service, repair or replace these appliances.

They say the crisis will lead to people with existing health conditions living with prolonged periods without space heating and as many as one in six gas appliances could shortly be condemned as part of the GB- wide smart meter roll-out. Industry experts also claim some old boilers are much more expensive to run, bad for the environment and are more prone to dangerous faults which in extreme instances can lead to loss of life from Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research at National Energy Action (NEA) said, “Our latest research shows that Gas Safe engineers, local authorities, charities and other local agencies are coming into daily contact with households who have had older, inefficient unsafe gas appliance condemned but one in ten households can’t afford to fix or replace them. This leaves thousands of people with existing medical conditions facing a winter without any effective space heating or hot water. This is bound to have very negative consequences; causing needless deaths and acute suffering.

"There is now no Government support to repair or replace these heating appliances and current energy supplier-led schemes are not addressing these issues which have increased significantly in recent months. This situation is also scheduled to become more severe in the near future, as engineers visit millions of homes and will have to turn off any unsafe gas appliances as part of the GB-wide smart meter roll-out. Whilst it is welcome that qualified engineers condemn gas appliances that need to be repaired or replaced, one risk to health and safety can be replaced by another.”

NEA is working with the heating industry to urge the UK Government to use the upcoming Budget to introduce a national boiler scrappage scheme, providing emergency assistance to low income households. Mike Foster, Chief Executive of the Energy and Utilities Alliance continues:

“The upcoming Budget must address this worrying gap in support. Replacing an old, inefficient ‘zombie’ boiler could have a positive impact on air quality and potentially lead to yearly savings of between £85 to over £300. The heating industry are committed to working on a cross-departmental basis with the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to introduce a new and additional policy which will help reduce cold-related ill health and winter deaths, help improve air quality, avoid acute risks such as CO poisoning and potentially save millions of tonnes of carbon emissions a year. The new initiative could also help stimulate local growth and wealth creation as local contractors could be used to install or repair the broken gas appliances.”

Safety expert, Chris Bielby, Chair of the charity Gas Safety Trust (GST) which aims to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning backs the campaign and concludes, “We know the tragic and fatal consequences of not being able to afford to service, repair or replace unsafe gas heating appliances, particularly for the most vulnerable in our society.

"It can put households or nearby neighbours at risk as a result of Carbon Monoxide poisoning or potentially, in extreme situations, cause fires or gas explosions. The latest industry data for September 2015 and January 2016 shows that there were four fatalities from this form of carbon monoxide poisoning – caused by a lack of gas appliance servicing, poor ventilation or where old flues have become blocked. All of the victims were over 60. Sadly, we also know this is just the tip of the iceberg; many thousands more perish or badly suffer over the winter because the resulting cold indoor temperatures exacerbate existing health conditions.”

The lack of support for gas boiler repairs and replacements has been frequently raised in Parliament in the last month. However, to date, the UK Government has failed to acknowledge the severity of these issues or commit to investigating what additional investment may be needed at a national level. NEA estimates it costs health services approximately £3.6 million per day treating cold related morbidity and in the past four years alone over £5 billion of tax payers’ money has been spent treating the symptoms of cold homes.

Conversely, addressing this big gap in support would help reduce these needless costs whilst delivering a wider set of local and national benefits.

* National Energy Action http://www.nea.org.uk/

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