Social Challenge

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National Energy Action is a fuel poverty charity that works to eradicate fuel poverty and campaigns for greater investment in energy efficiency to help those who are poor or vulnerable gain affordable heat.

The cost of energy is rising, and the choice between heating and eating is one experienced by millions of families across the UK. In the Tees Valley, around 1 in 7 households cannot afford to access the energy they need to stay warm and well at home. This situation is often defined as ‘fuel poverty’, but there is often a perceived stigma around fuel poverty, a lack of understanding as to what exactly the term means, and questions around the extent to which people recognise themselves as ‘fuel poor’ or at risk of fuel poverty.

Despite this, with domestic heating bills set to have doubled over the last 18 months, it is increasingly urgent that fuel poverty and the affordability of energy is recognised and addressed. Due to the current energy crisis those who have been on the 'edge' of fuel poverty will now find themselves struggling to pay their energy bills, yet have little or no support available to them. Meanwhile, those already unable to afford the energy they need will see their situations become unimaginably worse, forcing them to cut back on heating to avoid getting into debt and causing unnecessary damage to their health and wellbeing.

The energy crisis is taking place within the context of the broader climate crisis and the UK government’s pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The Tees Valley will play a crucial role in this endeavour, building on its historic industrial base to develop new technologies, services, and products to decarbonise different sectors of the economy. It is already at the forefront of ongoing revolutions in offshore wind, hydrogen production, and carbon capture and storage technologies, which have a significant potential to boost investment, jobs, and growth in the region. Innovators are also developing new products at different scales which will play a pivotal role in decarbonising the Tees Valley.

However, this current progress is not currently being harnessed to benefit those in or at risk of fuel poverty, and there is a correspondingly a real potential for the development of new products, business models, and links between communities and energy services to tackle fuel poverty, kickstart fair and equitable pathways to decarbonise homes, and improve health and wellbeing in the communities of Tees Valley.

People current state and future state

Current state

Future state

The households who really need support with their energy costs and to decarbonise their homes are not currently being reached successfully

  • It is not clear or easy for households to understand what support is available, or how long it will take
  • People don't want handouts and may feel that others have it worse than they do
  • It is hard to engage private sector landlords to improve their properties
  • People don't trust local councils and sometimes think free schemes are too good to be true

Necessary support with energy bills and decarbonising is guaranteed for the people who really need it

  • Support is clear and easy to understand for all (inc. landlords)
  • Support is not seen as a handout, and there is no stigma associated with asking for help
  • There is trust in local council schemes and support

There is varying needs and understanding when it comes to energy usage

  • People with vulnerabilities and specific needs
  • People who because of the crisis will now fall through the gaps
  • Low-income households or those on cusp of support eligibility

Tackling energy poverty is seen as a pivotal collective effort to achieve net zero, build healthy households and thriving communities

Technology current state and future state

Current state

Future state

New technologies are complex and often a barrier to affordability and decarbonisation

  • Information is complex and needs to be simplified so that everyone can understand the benefits of and need for new low carbon technologies.
  • Vulnerable communities find it hard to engage with new technologies, with concerns of trust and knowing where to go to find information, creates further disparities as tariffs and complex technologies arise.

New technologies and their benefits are easily understood and people can make the right choice for their home

  • New and innovative energy and smart technologies have people at the centre of their design, and in particular low-income and vulnerable households.
  • Community groups and advice services are integrated into the development of solutions and processes leading to better energy management and affordable energy for all.
  • Knowledge is shared freely and is simplified to provide inclusive access to all households and relevant stakeholders
  • Households have been upgraded to meet new technology implementation standards

A lack of skills and knowledge of new technologies are stopping the take up in local communities

  • Communities are lacking the skills and understanding to understand benefits of new technologies
  • Numerous users are unable to challenge bills or services received due to lack of understanding
  • Energy efficiency industry and other essential installation industries have limited capacity and resources to respond to the scale of domestic retrofit required.

Local communities have the skills and knowledge to support the uptake of new technologies and cheaper tariffs

  • Communities are being supported to sustain the pace of technologies
  • Community based tailored advice and support for everyone is easily accessible
  • Energy production is retained locally for local benefit, allowing the region to develop community ownership and a multi-skilled workforce.

The benefits of new technologies are not widely understood

  • The fear of the unknown is pushing people to avoid joining the energy revolution and integration of new technologies implemented

The benefits of ‘clean energy’ is understood and communities are benefitting from it with warm homes, cheaper bills and a strong local economy

  • Technology is meeting the needs of every household and stakeholder involved and provides cost-effective and flexibility of use.
  • New technologies are embedded within communities and contribute to the development and growth of local areas.

Finance current state and future state

Current state

Future state

Funding regimes are complex and not supporting those most in need.

  • Government funding is too complex, lacks clarity, with tight deadlines and changing priorities.
  • Funding sometimes requires a matched financial contribution which excludes those on low-incomes.
  • There is a ‘postcode lottery’ of funding which is not focussed on those in greatest need.

The complexity and affordability of new energies is stopping low-income households from making long-term changes 

  • Households want to make changes but are concerned about the affordability of new technologies and do not know where to start.


Funding is available for those who need it most and is providing new clean energy solutions in homes 

  • Funding schemes focus on helping the ‘worst first’, concentrating on households and areas with the greatest need.
  • Funding streams are simplified for communities and households to respond to and benefit from.
  • Government funding schemes recognise the long-term nature of the challenge, are clear in their direction and have realistic deadlines.
  • Funding is equitable no matter where you live and supports those in greatest need.

Regional viability issues mean that sometimes smaller companies lose out to large national businesses resulting in investment leaving the region.

There is a network of reputable trusted suppliers where smaller companies are successful in securing business and investment stays within the region.

There is a lack of community capacity to respond to community energy opportunities resulting in missed decarbonisation opportunities at a local level.

We have a thriving community energy sector resulting in a fair and just transition to Net Zero for all.

In scope

  • Communication hubs facilitating the sharing of information to fuel poor households and communities
  • Innovative education and outreach activities in fuel poor households and communities
  • Innovative community-based services that can provide tailored and accessible support with decarbonising to households in or at risk of fuel poverty
  • Community energy business model development and innovation for fuel poor households and communities
  • Trialing and testing of low-cost energy saving measures in fuel poor households

Out of scope

  • Training schemes for decarbonisation accreditation
  • New energy management technologies
  • Energy production and distribution processes

Social Challenge

Using the global crisis to catalyse social innovation

We are open to any new products, business models, and/or services which:

Will link communities and energy services that can tackle fuel poverty, kickstart fair and equitable pathways to decarbonise homes, and improve health and wellbeing in the communities of Tees Valley.

Products and services which:

  • Helping us build understanding and capacity around the need to decarbonise domestic heating in fuel poor household and communities in the Tees Valley
  • Developing ways of reducing the stigma surrounding fuel poverty and enhancing access to and take up of support in fuel poor households and communities in the Tees Valley
  • Providing clarity to people about how low-carbon technologies integrate in current landscape and how they can benefit from them
  • Developing activities, methods, or tools for communicating with communities regarding technology implementation and affordability
  • Developing and proposing new ways that households and communities across Tees Valley can benefit – financially, and in terms of health and wellbeing – from decarbonising

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