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Fuel Poverty

Volume 503: debated on Thursday 7 January 2010

The current exceptionally cold weather causes us all concern for the well-being of all households in fuel poverty. The Department for Work and Pensions makes cold weather payments as a contribution towards extra heating costs during a week of very cold weather in the area in which an eligible customer lives. This winter the number of cold weather payments made is estimated to be worth £185 million. Payments are made automatically, but if anyone has questions about the help available to them, they can access information on the directgov website—or if they do not have access to, or the inclination to use, the internet, they can always ask their Member of Parliament.

The estimated number of households in fuel poverty in the UK was around 2 million in 2003. The latest year for which figures are available is 2007, and they show that there were then around 4 million fuel-poor households in the UK.

I thank the Minister for that statement. My understanding is that last winter more than 5 million families were in fuel poverty. The Government have a statutory target to eradicate fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010. Will they meet that target?

It is very frustrating to me that the figures for fuel poverty are two-years-old, so the figure that the hon. Gentleman gives is an estimate. There is no doubt that rising fuel prices between 2004 and 2008 have caused us great difficulty in meeting that target, but I have not given up trying to meet it. All our efforts are directed towards eradicating fuel poverty, as we are indeed required to do.

Will the Minister accept that during one of the worst cold snaps for years, when vulnerable people such as pensioners in my constituency and elsewhere are struggling to keep their homes warm, it is especially important that consumers can switch to the cheapest available energy tariff offered by their supplier? Does he therefore agree that energy companies should be obliged to publish information on each customer’s bill showing whether they would be better off on an alternative scheme?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and it is the Government’s policy to encourage people to study the market and switch if possible. There is a new licence condition applying to every supplier from this month, requiring them to deliver to their customers an annual statement that includes information about their ability to switch and advice on how to do so. By the end of this year, every customer should have received the first of those statements.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to the needs, in this weather, of those who live in mobile homes, many of whom are on low incomes? They have a very limited choice of energy supply, and also lack options for additional insulation to improve the efficiency of their homes. I have raised this issue before, and the Government have so far done very little to assist that group of consumers to reduce the proportion of their income spent on energy bills. Is there anything that he can do now?

My hon. Friend has indeed been persistent in pursuing this issue, and I am pleased to say that in response to his pressure, the Department has agreed that it wants to pilot some schemes for delivering greater energy efficiency measures to park homes. I am not in a position to announce at the Dispatch Box today what the schemes will be, but I will be able to do so shortly.