Skip to main content

Warm Home Discount (Scotland) Regulations 2022

Volume 824: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Warm Home Discount (Scotland) Regulations 2022

Relevant documents: 9th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I beg to move that these regulations, which were laid before the House on 29 June 2022, be approved. This Government have taken decisive action to support people with their energy bills. From 1 October a typical household in the UK will pay no more than £2,500 a year on their energy bill for the next two years. This is in addition to the £37 billion of support announced earlier this year, including the energy bills support scheme that provides a £400 discount for around 29 million households. The warm home discount complements these measures, focusing on those at risk of fuel poverty, primarily through the provision of a £150 direct energy bill rebate.

We have already passed legislation for the extension, expansion and reform of the warm home discount scheme in England and Wales, with better targeted and automated rebate provision. The Scottish Government have devolved powers under the Scotland Act 2016 to design and implement a warm home discount scheme in Scotland. The BEIS Secretary of State has certain reserved powers, including approving any scheme for Scotland. Earlier this year, Scottish Ministers requested that the UK Government make provisions for a continuation of the scheme in Scotland. In May, the UK Government consulted on this continuation and expansion of the scheme in Scotland, which was supported by a majority of respondents.

This SI extends the WHD scheme in Scotland to 2025-26, providing much-needed certainty on energy bill support to low-income and vulnerable households in Scotland. The Government committed to expanding the scheme in the energy White Paper 2020. The £475 million —at 2020 prices—spending envelope is set for Great Britain and will be approximately £506 million in 2022 prices. The warm home discount in Scotland will increase proportionately in line with the GB-wide increase to the scheme. The UK Government will apportion 9.4% of the total spending to Scotland; this means £49 million of the overall scheme value, an increase of around £13 million compared with last year.

Overall, around 280,000 Scottish households in or at risk of fuel poverty will receive a rebate this winter, which is 50,000 more households than last winter. The apportionment of spending to Scotland is based on the number of domestic gas and electricity meters across Great Britain and ensures that the costs of the scheme are spread evenly across all customers. As a result, the proportion of spending in Scotland will exceed Scotland’s share of the Great Britain population.

The scheme participation threshold for energy suppliers is lowered to 50,000 domestic customer accounts in 2022-23 and to 1,000 domestic customer accounts from 2023-24. This mirrors the scheme in England and Wales, and will mean that from 2023-24, suppliers obligated under the scheme will cover over 99% of domestic customers.

As requested by Scottish Ministers, the WHD scheme in Scotland will be a continuation of the scheme previously in place across Great Britain in 2021-22 and therefore will continue to include three main components: the core group, the broader group and Industry Initiatives. First, under the core group element of the scheme, around 90,000 low-income pensioners in receipt of pension credit guarantee will continue to receive their rebates automatically. Secondly, under the broader group element, around 190,000 low-income and vulnerable households, mainly of working age, will receive a rebate following an application to their energy supplier. The broader group is expanded to include housing benefit as one of the mandatory eligibility criteria, as per the England and Wales scheme. Income thresholds for the criteria relating to child tax credits and universal credit are increased.

Each energy supplier’s obligations under the scheme will be set according to their market share in Great Britain. This is the fairest way of spreading costs across all customers in Great Britain and will ensure consistency across the two warm home discount schemes.

The Government recognise that there are differences in the proportions of energy customers that suppliers have in the different nations. There will be different challenges for suppliers with a higher proportion of customers in Scotland and those with a lower proportion. We are making allowances for these differences by allowing suppliers with few broader group customers in Scotland to transfer up to 100% of their broader group target to Industry Initiatives, which of course will be subject to Ofgem’s approval. Ofgem’s approval will mainly be based on each supplier’s market share in Scotland relative to Great Britain. Only energy suppliers with a disproportionally low number of broader group customers are likely to be permitted this flexibility.

Scottish households in or at risk of fuel poverty will continue to benefit from support under Industry Initiatives funded under the warm home discount. This element of the scheme will continue to provide valuable support to households, such as energy advice, benefit entitlement checks, energy debt and emergency financial assistance, as well as energy efficiency measures. We increased the cap on spending on Industry Initiatives to £7 million per annum, which is broadly proportionate to the spending expected in England and Wales in 2025-26.

Although activities permitted under Industry Initiatives will be the same as in previous years, there will be some exceptions. Part of the permitted Industry Initiatives spending on debt write-off is ring-fenced for customers with pre-payment meters, as these customers are particularly at risk of self-disconnection. Again, this mirrors the scheme in England and Wales. As per the scheme in England and Wales, limits are imposed on boiler and central heating system installations supported under Industry Initiatives, which will help to support our decarbonisation objectives.

No caps have been imposed on the amount of Industry Initiatives spending that can be used for financial assistance. The list of eligibility criteria for financial assistance has been expanded to include the mandatory eligibility criteria for the broader group. This will include suppliers whose broader group is oversubscribed to direct customers to financial assistance under these Industry Initiatives.

In conclusion, the warm home discount remains a source of critical support for low-income households across Great Britain. These regulations extend the scheme in Scotland until 2026 and increase energy bill support from £140 to £150 for over 280,000 low-income and vulnerable households each winter, when they need it most. This is an additional 50,000 households receiving vital support compared with last year. Therefore, I commend these regulations to the Committee.

I thank the Minister for his very full explanation. I start by expressing regret that this scheme is necessary in the first place. I think all of us recognise that while fuel poverty is really high profile at the moment, it is a scourge that has been with us for a long time, as reflected by the fact that the original scheme came in in 2011. Many people and families have struggled to pay their bills for a very long time. Of course, as outlined by the Minister, we recognise the support that has been given for the extreme circumstances we have found ourselves in recently.

I do not want to spend too much time going through the detail. I recognise that there has been extensive debate on the England and Wales scheme in the Commons and in this place, and that these regulations are bringing in the necessary additions to meet the requirement to have a separate scheme for Scotland, as has been outlined. We recognise that point, but I would like further clarification and reassurance that the Scottish Government are happy with the outcome of the debate and consultation as it has gone forward. That is very important; obviously, there are peculiar circumstances in terms of the responsibilities of the Scottish Government and the role that the UK Government have to play.

As we have heard, most respondents to the second consultation agreed with the proposed extension of the current scheme until 2026, but the other question that came up was whether it was possible to have an earlier review of the scheme given the circumstances people are facing at the moment. There is concern generally about the higher fuel poverty rates in Scotland that the evidence suggests. Obviously, concerns were raised about the method for apportioning spending to Scotland, and some asked for higher apportionment to reflect those higher rates. I think it is fair to say that some energy suppliers also expressed concern about the additional costs of running two separate schemes, in England and Wales and in Scotland, and I do not know whether there is any assessment of what that additional spend will be.

Of course, it was probably inevitable that there were many requests for the value of the rebates to be increased. I understand that the rebate is fixed at the level proposed for consistency with the England and Wales scheme, but I will leave that issue there as something that will probably come up in the Minister’s response. I wonder if there are any comments to be made on how we will assess the situation as we go forward into continuing uncertain times.

The way the scheme is structured means that the cost of the rebates will be passed on to consumers in Scotland. My understanding is that the suppliers will pass on the cost of the scheme to their customers. This is estimated to come out at about £19 per dual fuel account, which is an increase from £14 under the current scheme. The Minister is shaking his head; I take from his response that he has a comment to make on this. I look forward to hearing that this is not the case. The reason I raise it, of course, is because we are seeing across the whole of the UK more and more people starting to struggle to pay their energy bills—and an additional cost for some who might not be eligible for this rebate scheme is probably not sustainable and could end up forcing more people into needing to take part.

I shall leave my comments there. It is very important that we approve the regulations so that we can get them into place, so families can benefit as quickly as possible. I end my comments with the general view that I hope we are not losing sight of the wider imperative of moving forward with schemes that will actually reduce the need to use fuel. I am thinking of home insulation, for example. There is some uncertainty at the moment, and I would welcome reassurance that the work that has started will be continued and, indeed, increased.

I thank the noble Baroness very much indeed for her questions. She deserves admiration for being the only Member to turn up to discuss this important issue, so I am grateful to her for that. I am happy to confirm that the Scottish Government are very satisfied with the scheme before us today; in fact, they asked us to implement it on their behalf. They originally talked about doing a separate scheme for ECO and the warm home discount for Scotland, then they decided that they could not and therefore requested us to launch the process and implement it for Scotland. That is why we are debating these regulations separately from the England and Wales regulations. So not only are they satisfied with it but it is at their request that we do this.

On the noble Baroness’s question about a review, it would be possible for the Scottish and UK Governments to carry out a review and consult on amendments to the scheme, should they consider it appropriate. We are apportioning a fair amount to Scotland; it is equivalent to 9.4% of the overall spending, which is proportionate to the number of domestic gas and electricity meters in Scotland compared to the rest of Great Britain. This is higher than Scotland’s proportion of the population in Great Britain, which was 8.4% in mid-2020, and it will also exceed its share of means-tested benefits recipients. This approach makes it fairer for consumers across England, Wales and Scotland, ensuring similar levels of cost and benefit across consumers.

On the administration costs of the schemes, the scheme in Scotland is a continuation of the current scheme, so there would be limited additional burdens in implementing it, and there would be continuity for suppliers. The reform of the scheme in England and Wales will reduce the administrative burden of running the scheme compared to the current one, and flexibility to transfer the broader group into industry initiatives will reduce the burdens for suppliers with low or zero broader groups in Scotland.

On the noble Baroness’s point about the cost of the scheme on energy bills—I think that she cited the figure of £19—the ECO scheme and warm home discount form part of the so-called green levies, which the noble Baroness will recall the Chancellor announcing, rather than being funded through bills. The scheme will be funded, at least for the next two years, by the Exchequer directly under the energy price guarantee scheme. So we are continuing with the scheme as previously, but the suppliers will be refunded by the Exchequer from that.

The noble Baroness also asked a very important question about our insulation schemes. As she will know, we have insulation and energy efficiency schemes of about £6.6 billion through a number of different initiatives. I am thinking of the home upgrade grant, the social housing decarbonisation fund, the public sector decarbonisation scheme, the local authority delivery scheme, and so on. I am happy to confirm that they are continuing, as well as the ECO scheme, which is also part of the obligations on suppliers. Indeed, I am happy also to confirm that we are extending it. As part of his recent Statement, the Chancellor announced an ECO plus scheme, which will be worth about £1 billion over three years. We are currently working on implementing it, and we will bring a regulation back to this House to discuss its further implementation in future.

I hope that has dealt with all the noble Baroness’s queries. Again, I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.41 pm.