Fuel poverty measurement in Europe – part 1

In this two part series, Harriet Thomson will discuss a recently completed research project undertaken by herself and Dr. Carolyn Snell at the University of York. This first article will outline the project, its methods and some of the early outputs, whilst the second article will discuss in-depth the availability and quality of data for measuring European fuel poverty, and recommendations for future surveys.

Introduction

Fuel poverty, energy poverty and energy vulnerability have been the focus of numerous European academic and policy conferences over the last few years, including:

  • National Energy Action’s ‘European Energy Policy: Saving the Environment and Cutting Costs’ held May 2012 in London.
  • Energy Action’s ‘European Fuel Poverty Conference’ held March 2013 in Dublin.
  • More recently in February 2014, the Vulnerable Consumer Working Group of the European Commission hosted a workshop on ‘Energy Vulnerability in Europe’ for the EVALUATE project in February in Brussels.
  • March 2014, the European Economic and Social Committee hosted ‘Fighting energy poverty: towards a European political framework as new driver for action?’, also in Brussels, for the ACHIEVE project.

However, in spite of this increased activity, knowledge about fuel poverty is at an emergent and fragmented stage in many Member States, leading to inconsistencies and errors in the measurement of fuel poverty at the national level, which was the catalyst for this short research project.

Fuel poverty measurement in Europe: a pilot study

With funding from Eaga Charitable Trust, Harriet Thomson and Dr Carolyn Snell at the University of York have conducted a collaborative study of European fuel poverty measurement in conjunction with an expert steering group comprised of representatives from Universities and research organisations from across Europe.

To address the issue of inconsistent and inaccurate measurement of fuel poverty outlined above, and to disseminate best practice on how to identify fuel poverty, this project set out to:

  • Review existing research that has been produced on fuel poverty measurement
  • Develop and pilot a survey of fuel poverty in eight EU countries, with English, French and German language versions, in order to test the wording and format of variables
  • Create an introductory toolkit to promote best practice in measuring fuel poverty
  • Produce a final report with recommendations for the design of future EU household surveys of fuel poverty.

Outputs

The first project output was a rapid review of evidence pertaining to fuel poverty measurement across the European Union, which can be downloaded by clicking the following link: Rapid evidence review.

The key findings of the rapid review were:

  • The analysis of fuel poverty across Europe is lacking, at both the pan-European and national level
  • Attempts to measure fuel poverty had been made in just 6 Member States
  • Many researchers have incorrectly transferred the UK’s 10 per cent methodology in national level analyses
  • All five existing pan-EU analyses of fuel poverty have used data from before 2008, which predates the worst increases in energy prices as well as the global financial recession
  • Whilst the use of modelled required energy expenditure is desirable, it is not currently practical as most countries do not collect sufficiently detailed housing and energy efficiency data

The second stage of the project involved developing survey questions that could be used to measure fuel poverty in a pan-European context. These questions were grounded in the findings of the rapid review, and developed in conjunction with the steering group. The main purpose of developing a pilot survey was not to collect representative data, but rather to pre-test fuel poverty variables in order to collect valuable information on:

  • Question wording and sequencing
  • Range of responses,
  • Translation of terminology and concepts
  • Questions that carry the highest likelihood of dropping out, and length of time to complete.

Part two of this series will discuss the main outcomes of this pre-testing process, highlighting issues relating to translation and variable format.

The remaining project outputs were short toolkits on fuel poverty, in English, French and German language versions. These introductory guides were designed to help advice workers, practitioners, researchers and other interested parties new to the topic of fuel poverty to understand what the phenomenon is and how it can be identified and measured.

Given the target audience, the format and language of the toolkits are quite simple, although a recommended reading section is included towards the end for readers who want advanced reading on the topic. To view and download the toolkits, click the appropriate link below.

EU Fuel Poverty Toolkit [English]

EU Fuel Poverty Toolkit [French]

EU Fuel Poverty Toolkit [German]

For further information about the project or any of the outputs listed, please contact Harriet Thomson by email: hrt500 (at) york.ac.uk or Twitter: @harrimus or @fuelpoverty_eu

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