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Domestic Energy Costs

Volume 536: debated on Thursday 1 December 2011

We expect the warm home discount scheme to help about 2 million low-income and vulnerable households per year. This winter, energy suppliers will be required to provide automatic rebates of £120 on energy bills to more than 600,000 pensioners on the pension credit guarantee. In future, the green deal and the energy company obligation will provide energy efficiency measures at no up-front cost.

The Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State, at the Liberal Democrat conference just a few weeks ago, said:

“None of us should have to save on warmth in a cold winter. Some of the most vulnerable and elderly will shiver—and worse—if we do not help.”

Why then does he believe that the Government should cut winter fuel payments to 12.7 million pensioners?

The hon. Gentleman will be completely aware that that policy was announced by the previous Government, who did not put the money into their budget for it to go forward. We have therefore continued the policy that was put in place, but we have introduced the most rigorous scheme of energy efficiency in our homes—rolling it out in a way not even dreamed of by the previous Administration—to bring lasting help and care to support such people.

Twenty-eight per cent. of households in the west midlands live in fuel poverty, and one of the key issues for them is the quality of the housing stock in which they live. Obviously, the poorer the housing stock, the more difficult it is to heat. What specific support are the Government giving to help those in private rented housing, which is often not invested in by landlords and often very fuel inefficient?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. That is why the green deal has focused very strongly on those in the private rented sector and why we are considering introducing a legal obligation on private landlords to ensure that their homes are brought up to a reasonable standard. This sector has often been overlooked and has been harder hit than many others, and we are determined to make sure that it is now addressed properly.

I very much welcome the warm home discount scheme, for which a number of elderly people in Bournemouth would probably be eligible. How are the Government making people aware of this important scheme?

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the warm home discount, which is up by two thirds as a result of the decisions we have made, whereby £120 million will be spent supporting 600,000 poorer pensioners. The energy companies are writing directly to many of their customers—and we, as a Government, are writing to millions of others—to make sure that they are aware of the extra energy efficiency support that they can have.

How does my hon. Friend believe that the practice of falling block tariffs and direct debit discounts for the comfortably off helps to address fuel poverty?

My hon. Friend raises the important issue of whether people should pay more for the additional units they use or whether the level should drop. Our concern about moving to a rising rate is that children, pensioners or people with disabilities who are at home more and need more warmth could be adversely hit by such a change. Not only the larger properties and the richer families would be affected; it could easily also affect those whom we are most keen to support and help.

Does the green deal Minister remember telling the Energy Bill Committee that he fully expected the energy company obligation to provide a far greater level of support to tackle fuel poverty than either the carbon emissions reduction target or Warm Front? In what way is ECO’s pitifully small £325 million a year for fuel-poor homes a far greater level of resource than the 2010-11 Warm Front spending of £370 million or CERT spending of about £600 million on priority groups?

I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that this is funding that people can have in addition to the green deal support. It is designed to make sure that there is a comprehensive approach. We have sought to ensure that we have an holistic approach and that we do more on energy efficiency and on assisting poorer households. We are trying to make sure that we do this in the most effective way possible.