Cladding and fuel poverty – a lethal combination

Fuel prices are rising fast, the energy price cap has been increased again, yet Cardiff Council is not able to prioritise replacement cladding for Council tenants.

A cold winter ahead for Cardiff council’s tower block residents, and their pets. Picture credit: Dave Shea

Most people will have heard, one way or another, about the Grenfell fire. The formal inquiry is ongoing, but it is already clear that the cladding on the outside of the building, combined with various other changes that were made to the block during its refurbishment, were major reasons for the rapid spread of the fire and the deaths of 72 people. The first stage inquiry report said the victims of Grenfell had paid ‘a terrible price for a catastrophic failure of industry and Government’. T

Although much has been made of the role of the cladding in making Grenfell tower look more attractive, cladding has an important function in providing insulation, reducing heat loss and therefore the amount of energy needed to keep homes warm.

A study carried out last year identified Cardiff as the UK city where people are most likely to experience fuel poverty. This is due to a combination of factors including the ratio of household income to energy bills and the average age of homes, with older homes being more difficult to heat. ​​​​​​​

Households spending more than 10% of their income on fuel bills to ‘maintain a heating regime’ are considered to be in fuel poverty. For a single person over 25 on Universal Credit (after the removal of the £20 uplift), this means if you spend more than £7.50 a week on fuel, you are in fuel poverty. For a couple on Universal Credit, 10% of income would be £12 a week. Our expenditure on fuel, with two of us in the house, both working from home, is about £20 a week, a bit lower than the average fuel bill in the UK.    

Last month saw this article about delays to replacing cladding on a number of Cardiff Council-owned blocks of flats. They have had potentially dangerous cladding removed, but installing replacement cladding will now be delayed, possibly into 2023. So at least one, but maybe two, more winters for the residents living with the impact of no cladding. The reason given by the Council for the delay is inflation of both materials and labour leading to significantly increased costs. Yet we see a different approach when it comes to the proposed new arena where money appears to be no object; increased costs are not only tolerated, but anticipated and built into the financial arrangements. And might the Council itself be creating inflationary pressures in construction by pushing through so many major developments at the same time? 

Fuel prices are rising fast, the energy price cap has been increased again, yet the Council is not able to prioritise replacement cladding for Council tenants. How much higher will their fuel bills be as a result and will more tenants be plunged into fuel poverty and having to choose between eating and heating?   

Meanwhile, for leasehold owners in many blocks of flats in Cardiff Bay (such as Celestia) and across the city, the cladding nightmare continues, with little prospect of dangerous cladding being removed, let alone being replaced.

Tamsin Stirling, Octber 2021   

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