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Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what progress the Government made in (a) 2006, (b) 2007 and (c) in the first nine months of 2008 on meeting the targets arising under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000; and if he will make a statement. (227586)

Tackling fuel poverty is a priority for the Government. Since 2000, the Government have spent £20 billion on fuel poverty benefits and programmes. The UK Fuel Poverty Strategy was published in November 2001 and sets out the approach of the Government (and the Devolved Administrations) for tackling fuel poverty. The latest version of the Fuel Poverty Strategy reflects the requirements of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act to do all that is reasonably practicable to end fuel poverty amongst the vulnerable by 2010.

From 1996 to 2004, the Government made good progress with 4 million households lifted out of fuel poverty as a result of our energy efficiency programmes, falling energy prices and rising incomes.

The 2005 figures show fuel poverty levels were also significantly below 1996 levels with approximately 2.5 million households in fuel poverty, of which an estimated 2 million were vulnerable, although these figures do show an increase in fuel poverty of 0.5 million since 2004, reflecting the impact of rising energy prices.

The Government's Sixth Annual Progress Report on Fuel Poverty was published on 2 October 2008. It shows that in 2006 there were approximately 3.5 million households in fuel poverty across the UK, an increase of 1 million households since 2005. Around 2.75 million of these are vulnerable households (containing children, the elderly or a person who is disabled or suffering from a long-term illness).

In England, the overall number of households estimated to be in fuel poverty in 2006 is 2.4 million of which around 1.9 million are vulnerable. This represents a rise of 900,000 households since 2005 and a rise of 700,000 vulnerable households over the same period.

The rise in the number of households in fuel poverty during 2006 was due to increases in consumer energy prices. The overall cost of energy to domestic consumers rose by 22 per cent. in real terms between 2005 and 2006, with gas prices rising by 29 per cent. and electricity prices rising by 19 per cent.

Official figures for 2007 will not be available until next year, however indicative projections for 2007 and 2008 were published in the Sixth Annual Progress Report, copies of which have been placed in the Library. The projections made for 2007 in England show that further price rises are likely to have pushed a further 0.7 million households into fuel poverty, which would mean a total of around 3.1 million households. Projections for 2008 show a further increase in fuel poverty for England of around 0.5 million households; this amounts to a total of around 3.6 million households. These projections are based on known price changes along with estimates for income and energy efficiency improvements.

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change when the fuel poverty strategy required by the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 was published; what changes have been made to it since publication; what discussions he has had with energy companies on it since its publication; what discussions he has had with HM Treasury on the strategy; what recent representations he has received on it; and if he will make a statement. (227587)

The UK Fuel Poverty Strategy was published in November 2001. It sets out the approach of the Government (and the Devolved Administrations) to tackling fuel poverty. It defined the interim target "to seek an end to the blight of fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010."

In September 2002, a joint consultation was issued by Defra and the then-DTI seeking views on proposals to clarify the duties provided for in the Fuel Poverty Strategy for England. The revision to the FPS was announced in December 2002.

Following the December 2002 revision, the Fuel Poverty Strategy in relation to England now states:

“In England, the Government as far as reasonably practicable will seek an end to fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010.” The “as far as reasonably practicable” qualification was introduced into the interim target in order better to reflect the nature of the commitment which the Government had undertaken in relation to the final target. It emphasises that the Government could not be committed, in the interim, to the eradication of fuel poverty whatever the cost of the necessary measures and regardless of the amount of money which could properly be made available for fuel poverty measures.

“Fuel poverty in other households in England will, as far as reasonably practicable, also be tackled as progress is made on those groups, with a target that by 22 November 2016 no person in England should have to live in fuel poverty.”

“Vulnerable households” are households including older householders (those aged 60 or more), families with children and householders who are disabled or suffering from a long-term illness.

Ministers are in regular contact with energy suppliers and other stakeholders to discuss fuel poverty, among other issues. As announced in the 2008 Budget, the Government negotiated a voluntary agreement with each of the six main energy suppliers which means that the total level of assistance offered to vulnerable households by suppliers will increase from £100 million in 2008-09, to £125 million in 2009-10 and £150 million in 2010-11.

Ministers in the new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will continue discussions with colleagues in other Departments with links to fuel poverty issues including those in HM Treasury, Communities and Local Government, Department of Work and Pensions and the Department of Health.

Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged brought a claim for judicial review against the Secretary of State alleging a continuing failure to perform his duties outlined in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. The case was dismissed; the court has, however, granted the claimants the right to appeal.

The Government remain committed to tackling fuel poverty. While recent energy prices have made the challenge more difficult, we keep the position under constant examination and develop our approach as the situation changes.