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Fuel Poverty

Volume 557: debated on Thursday 31 January 2013

The green deal and energy company obligation will provide considerable support to make homes more energy efficient, reaching some 230,000 low-income and vulnerable households each year. Our warm home discount scheme supports 2 million households in total—this winter it has already helped more than 1 million of the poorest pensioners. We also make cold weather payments and winter fuel payments.

The Government have recently consulted on a new definition of fuel poverty to ensure that help is targeted at those who need it most. Will the Minister confirm what progress has been made?

I am happy to do so, as I know my hon. Friend takes an interest in fuel poverty. Professor John Hills published his final report in 2012. It highlighted serious flaws with the current methodology. We have therefore committed to moving away from that definition and consulted on a new approach that will more accurately measure the problem. We will publish our response to the consultation early in 2013. In addition to changes to the definition, we have announced that we will publish, for the first time since 2001, a refreshed strategy for tackling fuel poverty this year, and ensure that our resources are being used as effectively as possible.

One group that suffers most from fuel poverty is those on prepayment meters. Hon. Members have heard evidence from witnesses in the Energy Bill Committee that the Government’s proposals will make reductions to the lowest tariff only within the type of tariff people are already on. How will that help those on prepayment meters?

Those people should also see reductions; they certainly will not be stranded on previous deadweight tariffs.

The Government have claimed that the new energy company obligation will be bigger and better than the fuel poverty and energy efficiency schemes that came before it. Why, therefore, could up to 60% of ECO funding end up going to people who can already afford to improve their homes, and not to those in fuel poverty?

The fact is that a minimum of £540 million a year under ECO will be directed towards the fuel poor. That is a minimum; we expect far more to end up in low-income areas as ECO rolls out, and as we upgrade our housing and finally come up with the solution in respect of retrofitting that Labour, in 13 years, failed to offer.

The Minister can dodge the question as much as he likes, but the facts speak for themselves. Out of this year’s ECO budget of £1.3 billion, just £540 million will go to people in fuel poverty. That is less than the budget for people who can afford to insulate their own homes, and less than half the support available last year. Is that not why, according to the Government’s impact assessment, ECO is forecast over the next 10 years to lift just 250,000 households out of fuel poverty—50,000 fewer than fell into fuel poverty this winter alone?

I remind the right hon. Lady that, while she was in government as a Minister, fuel poverty rose from 2 million to 5.5 million. This Government are committed to doing something about it. Rather than crying crocodile tears, perhaps she should recognise that that £500 million-plus is the absolute minimum we are spending on the fuel poor. We expect to spend a lot more.