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Community Insulation Projects

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what arrangements will be made to the fuel community insulation projects in 1988; and if he will make a statement.

At present the Department of Health and Social Security makes single payments to recipients of supplementary benefit for the cost of materials to draughtproof their homes. The work of draughtproofing is normally undertaken by community insulation projects, under the auspices of NEA, and carried out by long-term unemployed people on the Manpower Services Commission's community programme. There are now 384 of these projects, and over 300,000 homes have already been insulated under this programme, to which the Manpower Services Commission, DHSS, the DOE and my Department have all contributed.I have drawn hon. Members' attention to the success of this programme because in many of their constituencies it is helping the old to keep warm and providing the younger with worthwhile jobs, as well as improving the energy efficiency of the 300,000 homes.Present arrangements for single payments for draught-proofing will end in April 1988 as part of the social security reforms. The Government have, however, made clear their commitment to continue help with the cost of draughtproofing materials where it is needed. The Departments supporting this programme have therefore been considering how this can best be done.My right hon. Friends and I have now decided that in the long term the right solution will be to extend the home improvement grant scheme to include the cost of draughtproofing materials within a revised system. The new arrangements for the home improvement grant scheme will not, however, be in place before the social security changes.As an interim measure, therefore, the Government have decided that from April 1988 help with the cost of draughtproofing materials will be provided through the Manpower Services Commission. The commission will be well placed to undertake this task because of its responsibility for operating the community programme through which the actual work of draughtproofing is now done. It will operate a scheme in consultation with my Department and others with an interest.Eligibility for the scheme will be widened in April 1988 to include all households in receipt of income support, housing benefit or family credit. This means an increase in eligible households from under 3 million to about 7 million. A small contribution will be sought from householders benefiting from the scheme, but this will amount to no more than about 3 per cent. of the cost of the draughtproofing service provided.As a result of these decisions the future of the community insulation projects is now assured. We estimate that Government support for them in 1988–89 will be worth some £55 million to £60 million, of which £14·5 million will be for draughtproofing materials alone. This would represent an increase of 80 per cent. on 1986–87 and nearly 30 per cent. on 1987–88. Discussions will now be taking place with NEA and other organisations involved in draughtproofing work in order to finalise the administrative arrangements which will come into force from April 1988.