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Energy: Fuel Poverty

Volume 708: debated on Monday 23 February 2009


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to support those who live in fuel poverty in rural communities and are dependent on oil and liquefied petroleum gas for heating, having no access to the gas network. [HL1200]

Warm Front is the Government's flagship scheme for tackling fuel poverty in the private sector in England for vulnerable householders. The scheme currently provides grants for specified insulation and heating measures up to the value of £2,700 or £4,000 for oil central heating (including properties with no access to the gas network).

The Government recognise the specific challenge of assisting hard to treat properties in rural communities. The Warm Front Scheme Management Board considers on a regular basis whether to approve appropriate alternative technologies for the scheme, where they might prove cost-effective. The board will consider whether the technology is readily available and reliable, as well as whether there are sufficiently skilled people to install and repair the proposed measure and also how easy it is to use. One example is through Warm Front and National Energy Action and we are currently carrying out a pilot using solar thermal technology together with electric heating.

In addition, Warm Front has a networking team which operates in rural areas to help bring assistance to vulnerable households in rural communities. Pro-actively engaging with local organisations and area-based schemes, it helps to increase the take-up of grants and energy efficiency advice in rural areas.

The Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) is the Government's principal policy for driving up household energy efficiency in Britain out to 2011. Under CERT the major energy suppliers have an obligation to direct at least 40 per cent of carbon savings at priority group households. This includes important measures for hard-to-treat homes such as solid wall insulation and central heating. Suppliers installed around 80,000 heating measures through fuel switching in the previous three-year obligation period to March 2008 (Energy Efficiency Commitment Two). The Government recognised there is a high up-front cost for these measures and therefore under CERT we have introduced specific incentives to help improve the financial viability of fuel switching, with a particular focus on homes which are off the gas grid.

The principal barrier to providing new connections to communities and households beyond the mains gas network is the cost to the customer. Ofgem recognises the benefits that access to gas offers low income households and has incentivised the large gas networks to connect deprived communities under the 2008-2013 Gas Distribution Price Control. This packages a range of existing funding sources and uses independent gas transporters with an aim of ensuring the maximum number of vulnerable and fuel poor households should be connected to the gas network at least cost. Those households assisted under the scheme qualify because they either reside within the 20 per cent most deprived areas according to the index of multiple deprivation, qualify for assistance under Warm Front (or similar schemes in the Devolved Nations) or fall within the priority group under CERT.