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Warm Front Scheme

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 11 November 2010

2. What changes he proposes to make to the Warm Front scheme to ensure that it meets the needs of vulnerable fuel-poor households. (23142)

As announced in the spending review, DECC will fund a smaller, more targeted Warm Front scheme over the next two years as we transition to the full roll-out of the green deal, with its energy company obligation. We will shortly be consulting on the proposed changes to Warm Front to ensure that the eligibility criteria reflect the coalition’s determination to focus on the most vulnerable households.

Warm Front funding is to be reduced from £345 million to £110 million by next year—that is a 68% cut. The Government’s plans to try to bridge the gap are likely to be funded through a levy on consumer bills, but that does not take into account the fact that this perversely hits the fuel poor hardest. What account has the Secretary of State taken of the Government’s own figures, which estimate that although options such as an extension of CERT—the carbon emissions reduction target—might take between 21,000 and 31,000 households out of fuel poverty, the impact via increased fuel bills is that it results in 70,000 to 150,000 households being put into fuel poverty?

The coalition is very mindful of the impact of all levies on domestic fuel bills. That is why, in the comprehensive spending review, we decided, for example, not to go forward with plans to fund RHI—the renewable heat incentive—on the basis of a levy, but to fund it out of general taxation. However, I can assure the hon. Lady that we look overall at the benefits for the fuel poor that will accrue from access to the green deal, feed-in tariffs and social price support, as well as continuing support for Warm Front for the next two years. Taken together, this holistic approach will ensure that we continue to make progress against fuel poverty.

Considering the previous Government’s abject failure to tackle rural fuel poverty, will my hon. Friend tell me what we are going to do differently?

We are looking very carefully to ensure that our proposals for the RHI and social price support particularly take into account the needs of off-grid customers and the fuel poor. The green deal will take particular account of those in hard-to-treat homes, which are often older houses in rural areas.

Age UK estimates that more than 3.5 million older people across the UK live in fuel poverty, and every year more than 30,000 older people die from preventable causes over the winter months—a tragedy that we should do all we can to prevent. I have spoken to Age UK about the Government’s plan to phase out the Warm Front scheme and replace it with the green deal. Warm Front has so far brought 21st-century heating to more than 2 million households. Age UK is concerned that key components of the Warm Front scheme, including boiler replacements, will not be covered under the green deal. As another cold winter takes hold, has the Minister spoken to Age UK about its concerns, and can he guarantee that the green deal will be fair and will not leave millions of elderly people abandoned in their own homes, living in fuel poverty?

I can certainly guarantee, regarding the green deal, that fairness will be at the very heart of this exciting new proposition. In fact, the hon. Lady underestimates the number of fuel poor. Our departmental figures show that there are probably more than 4 million households living in fuel poverty, and that is a direct legacy of the Government whom she supported. Fuel poverty has been rising, year on year, and it did so right the way through the previous Parliament. It is a scandal that despite setting the target for 2016, the trajectory was going the wrong way. We need a game changer; we have to start again. We have to really attack fuel poverty, but we need new ambition, and we are bringing forward radical reforms to ensure that the delivery matches the rhetoric.