Skip to main content

Public Charge Point Regulations 2023

Volume 832: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Public Charge Point Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 48th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, the transition to zero-emission vehicles is vital to realising our net-zero ambitions. Cars and vans are the source of 68% of the UK’s domestic transport emissions. That is why this Government have committed to ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030.

We have already made significant progress towards this target. There are more than 1.2 million plug-in vehicles licensed in the UK, 58% of which are battery electric. We will shortly confirm details of our world-leading zero-emission vehicle mandate, which will continue to drive the uptake of these vehicles. However, the successful transition to zero-emission vehicles also requires a reliable, accessible and affordable charging network to be in place across the country.

There are already 45,500 public charge points installed across the country. The Government and industry are continuing to work together to drive these numbers up. The Government expect there to be at least 300,000 public charge points by 2030, largely led by the private sector. ChargeUK, the industry body for the electric vehicle charging industry, has committed to doubling the number of public charge points over the next 12 months.

These regulations were laid before Parliament on 11 July, under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. The regulations will ensure that drivers of electric vehicles will be able to travel confidently, knowing that they can find a fully operational charge point suitable for their needs and can easily pay. Electric vehicle drivers can currently face challenges when trying to charge their vehicles. Concerns are often raised about locating a suitable charge point or the charge point not working on arrival. Paying for charging can also be confusing, with multiple apps and websites to navigate, and prices are displayed in different ways, making it hard to compare and find value for money. Left unchecked, these issues run the risk of eroding consumer confidence in the public charge point network, discouraging those looking to own an electric vehicle and slowing the electrification of fleets.

These regulations take bold steps to remove these obstacles. They are essential to accelerating electric vehicle ownership and reaching our net-zero ambitions. To develop these regulations, my department engaged with consumer groups, vehicle manufacturers, technical experts and the charge point industry, to fully understand the barriers and potential mitigations.

I turn to the content of the SI. To make payments easier across the charging network, these regulations introduce contactless payment at many new and existing charge points. Within one year, all new public charge points with a power rating of 8 kilowatts and above must provide contactless payment and all existing rapid charge points of 50 kilowatts and above must be retrofitted. These regulations also require that within two years, all charge point operators must offer payment roaming at all their charge points through at least one third-party roaming provider. Consumers will be able to pay for a charge across multiple charge point networks through one app or radio frequency identity card, RFID card, which is similar to a fuel card often used by drivers of petrol or diesel cars. This last element is crucial for fleet electrification, as it enables fleet operators to centralise the billing for charging their electric vehicles.

Pricing transparency will be mandated by these regulations. This means that drivers will be able to understand how much they are paying to charge their vehicle; it will empower them to find the best value for their needs. The total price of a charge must be displayed in pence per kilowatt hour and should be clearly displayed either on the charge point or through a separate device, to make price comparison across different networks much easier. Once the charging session has started, the price must not increase. Offers such as combining parking and charging fees will remain permissible if the charging component is also displayed in pence per kilowatt hour.

Charge point operators must also open their charge point data to the public. This will include live data on whether a charge point is operational and available. Data must be accurate and conform to a data standard—the open charge point interface—within one year of these regulations coming into force. Opening up charge point data will drive innovation in the development of consumer-friendly apps. This will put more detailed and reliable data at the fingertips of consumers, making it easier to locate available charge points.

The regulations will also require world-leading reliability across the public rapid charge point network. Charge point operators will be required to ensure that their network of rapid public charge points is working 99% of the time. This will be measured as an annual average and will apply one year from the date these regulations come into effect. Such a measure will give the public far greater confidence in the public charge point network.

Finally, the regulations will mandate that charge point operators must run a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, free-to-use telephone helpline for consumers. This should be set up within one year.

The regulations are essential to improving the consumer experience of driving and charging electric vehicles in the UK. They will deliver a public charge point network that the public can rely on. Charge points will be easy to find, with prices that are easy to understand and a service that is easy to pay for. The regulations will be vital in accelerating electric vehicle uptake and driving forward the Government’s commitment to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. This step is crucial in the fight against climate change and shows the UK public that we are committed to enhancing the way in which they use the road network. I beg to move.

My Lords, as an electric car owner of six years, I welcome the attention being paid to our usage. The regulations represent a first step forward in the right direction, but it is too little and there is a long way to go.

The incidence of range anxiety is well known. Celebrities have written about how they will never drive electric again, having been thwarted in their attempts to charge up as they go on long journeys. The lack of charging points is almost a national joke. It has taken about five years of pleading for Parliament to install two chargers; after some postponements, they are finally expected after the Conference Recess. These are the rules for payment—or at least one of them:

“Via the QR code, scan the QR Code using your mobile device and follow the on-screen instructions on your mobile device, add a payment card, and pay as you go for the energy charge”.

I can see what will happen. Even that is relatively simple compared with some others—I will come to that point.

I solved my own charging issues by exchanging, at considerable expense, my low-range electric car for a much longer-range one, but many cannot afford that and many more live in terraced houses and blocks of flats with no access to a charging point in their garage or driveway, at work or in the road. Even in the road, there is no guarantee that a charger will be free and working or that a non-electric vehicle will not have taken the space reserved for an electric one. I have known banks of six chargers where you find that two of them are Tesla only, two are broken, one does not fit your car and one is in use. I gather that Tesla is now making its dedicated charge points available to other makes, but one will need a special adapter to connect the car. That needs to be widely known. How can we persuade the public to take up electric vehicles when charging and infrastructure are so lacking and complicated?

The regulations require contactless. To the public, that means tapping one’s everyday credit or debit card. Thankfully, it seems that is what the regulations mandate, instead of the current need to carry a wallet full of payment cards issued by many different charging providers. But this requirement applies only to new public charge points—we have to wait another year for the old ones—and those with a power of 8 kilowatts or above.

Moreover, public charge points are defined in the regulations not to include workplace charge points, points for a specific car make—Tesla, for example—or those for use by a visitor to residential premises. They do not apply to micro-businesses or to blocks of flats, and they exclude slow charge points. Why? Within two years, users will be able to use a payment card provided by one provider for another’s charge point, but it seems as if a provider need link up with only one other. We need one card to be used at every charge point nationally.

We need lighting requirements. Too often, the charge point, its tiny print about how to use it and the socket are shrouded in dark, at night and in the rain. Currently, the need to have wifi and an app may be a major obstacle. Imagine if you were a petrol car driver who gets to a petrol filling station late at night, only to find that your car is not allowed to be filled from that brand of pump and that you have to drive on and find another, or that the wifi is not working but is required.

The 99% liability is spread too thinly because it applies to the entire network, not the individual charging points. All in all, these regulations go too far in avoiding excessive regulatory burdens on industry, as they put it. I prefer to express it as too weak a requirement on industry to make the charge points that it provides, and from which it profits, all work all the time. Charging points should be uniform and there needs to be an end to the multiple, confusing charging membership packages.

The provision of data mandated in the regulations is good. One needs to know in advance whether the charging point that one wants to rely on is actually free and in working order. I fear that the mandated 24-hour telephone helpline may turn out to be one more where one is left holding on in the dark—and the rain—while music plays and a recording says, “Your call is important to us”.

Although these regulations herald an improvement on the current situation, it is only seven years until 2030 and the phasing out of petrol cars. There is not enough here to persuade the worried consumer to trust electric vehicle charging, because there are too many exemptions and providers are being given too long to adjust, given that electric cars have been mass produced and used since at least 2010. The regulations need to apply to every charge point, wherever it is, whatever its strength and very soon.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on echoing my personal experiences time after time as the driver of an electric vehicle, which I used to be.

I understand that, as we speak, the EV charge points are finally being installed in the Royal Court of the House of Lords. I suspect there are not enough, but at least there will be a charge point or two, so it seems that we can finally speak about these issues in this House without a sense of hypocrisy—demanding of others that they make a provision that we would not even make for ourselves. My thanks to the House for making that decision but, if there are only two charge points, I hope it realises that it will need to add many more very quickly to service the number of people driving electric cars who belong to this House.

As I just implied, I no longer have my electric car, or any car, because a few weeks ago my Nissan Leaf suddenly lost power in the fast lane of the M25. This is apparently not an unexpected feature of the Nissan Leaf reduction box; I cannot tell you how casual the company was about this failure. The car is scrap, and I am alive and uninjured thanks only to some sort of hand of fate, frankly, having tried to manoeuvre on momentum across four lanes of traffic on the M25.

However, I owned an EV for long enough to understand all the trials and challenges of public charging, so well laid out by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I realise that this SI is supposed to redress those. As I read the details, I became more and more disappointed and frustrated.

I followed up on this when I received a briefing from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders —so it was not just my imagination or analysis. It is a dismaying briefing that looks at the inadequacies of this statutory instrument. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, hit the nail exactly on the head: this SI is too weak a requirement on the public charging provision industry, which is a thriving industry with a growing income that really needs to start taking customer service extremely seriously. Frankly, it will not do so without regulatory pressure.

I go back to the contactless payment parts of the SI. I think we all know that DC charge points, where power from the grid is converted inside the charger, are already contactless. But they are rare and many cars cannot use them. As far as I can see, this statutory instrument is targeted primarily at AC charge points, which are much more common. I accept with some reluctance that the Government decided that the industry would resist retrofitting existing AC charge points, but, before I read the SI, I naively assumed that all new AC charge points would be contactless. How wrong I was. Only new public charge points of 8 kilowatts and above will be required to be contactless, but most AC charge points are 7 kilowatts. If you go to almost any station, you will find a 7-kilowatt charger and a 22-kilowatt charger—that is the basis on which this industry operates. So, as far as I can see, it will be years before any new 7-kilowatt chargers are, or will be required to be, contactless. That virtually guts this part of the legislation.

In addition, the legislation would allow multiple charge points—all of those on a nearby street, for example—to be attached to a single contactless charge point. So drivers could have to walk quite a distance from their cars to pay. I can tell you that, if you have kids, pets or exposed shopping in the car, having to go on a trek to make the payment and then return to the car will discourage so many people and will be a real inconvenience. Frankly, it would also be quite high-risk if you had a sleeping child sitting in the front of your car.

Then we come to payment roaming. The requirement for payment roaming will come into force two years and 23 days hence, which strikes me as extraordinary because it is not an onerous burden to place on the various companies. It is a simple process. I do not understand why drivers will have to wait until 2026 before they can roam across multiple charging networks. Perhaps the Minister could explain the delay.

Perhaps even more importantly, there is the issue of reliability, which exercises so many of us when we drive outside our local area. The SI establishes a minimum rate of 99% reliability—as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, that is across the system, not for each individual charger—but it applies to DC chargers only. AC chargers are exempt, and I do not understand why.

On mapping and price transparency, I am glad that there are some requirements in this legislation, because both of those issues need to be tackled—but they are still going to be pretty inadequate. At the moment, the information is available but is confusing. Price comparison is nearly impossible because it is always on a different basis. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, also mentioned getting to a place where you can see that a charger is not in use but the space is blocked by another car. Things will never be perfect, and I am glad that this issue is in the SI, but I wonder whether it could have been more demanding in how it tackles the problem.

People potentially buying or leasing an EV can usually work out a charging solution in or around their home residences. But those same people are rightly discouraged from getting an EV because of concerns with charging not at home but at their destination, where, typically, the local payment system that they have at home does not work.

I say this as someone who can charge very easily near my home in Barnes but has roved around every public charging point in Sevenoaks trying to find one that I could use. I finally had to nap in the car outside my son’s house until a granddaughter came home and I could plug into their garage. Those kinds of experiences are repeated over and over by people who drive outside their immediate neighbourhoods.

This SI is an opportunity missed. As a Minister in coalition, I had the EV portfolio and dealt with the gushing scorn for the EV agenda of quite a few people from the current governing party. Frankly, without Danny Alexander as an ally in the Treasury, I would not have had a chance of protecting the low-emissions programme. This unambitious attitude seems to continue. Obviously I am not going to vote against this SI—it has some value and some benefits—but I ask the Minister to go back, take up the cudgels and follow up with a further SI that puts proper responsibilities on the charging industry to provide proper customer service.

My Lords, I start by saying that I do not have an electric vehicle, which is probably why I am more content than the present company and the noble Baronesses who have experienced them.

The transition to electric vehicles is essential for the UK to meet its climate targets. It also represents an opportunity for economic growth and the future of our automotive industry. I therefore welcome the Government’s attempts to better regulate public charge points to make their use a more attractive prospect for motorists.

If electric vehicles are to become the norm, they must be as reliable and convenient as their petrol or diesel equivalents. Unfortunately, I fear that these regulations alone will not achieve this. The Minister will be aware that, at the current rate, we will have fewer than half the public electric vehicle charging points that the Government predict will be needed by 2030 and there is huge regional inequality in access to these points.

The borough in which we are today has a greater number of public charging points than the 14 biggest northern cities combined. For those people living in charging deserts, improved reliability does not change the fact that they do not have access to charging points. Has the Minister considered new binding targets for electric vehicle charge points to boost their rollout?

I have three questions on the regulations, on which I hope the Minister can provide assurances. The impact assessment estimates a £109 million net cost to business per year. How have the Government sought to minimise this?

Secondly, can the Minister explain why the regulations represent 99% reliability per rapid network rather than per individual rapid charge point? Having said that, I am amazed by the 99% figure. I know of no system that has unsupervised public access and works at that level of availability. It is a very rough world—a world where you are exposed to the unsupervised British citizen. Perhaps the reason, as I read the SI, is that failing this test leads to a £10,000 fine and nothing more. I suspect that that will be seen as just part of taxation.

Finally, given that micro-businesses are excluded, how many charging points will not be impacted by these regulations?

I welcome this SI because it is a first step, as the Minister will accept, but the overwhelming problem is availability. I was given the figure of 300,000 as the target so I researched it; I found a reference by the Minister of State, Jesse Norman, from 7 March this year, to a White Paper, Taking Charge: The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy. Unfortunately, this is not uniquely a document that is undated and unsigned. On page 38, there is a reference to the 300,000 figure:

“However, if we assume that on a national basis there is a high proportion of charging at workplaces and that consumers adopt efficient charging behaviour, as well as lower mileage, around 300,000 public chargepoints would be required”.

So this figure assumes that useful behavioural changes will occur. The document goes on to say:

“This number would increase up to around 700,000 if there is a higher proportion of on-street chargers across the country, and consumers drive more and adopt relatively inefficient charging behaviours, staying longer parked at chargepoints while not actually charging. Our estimates are in line with the latest industry findings”.

It seems to me that 300,000 is a pretty adventurous figure but 700,000 is surely impossible.

This is a crisis area. As the decade plays out, we must create an atmosphere that means that, if you buy an electric car, it will be as convenient to drive as the petrol car you give up. I do not see how we are going to get there. I hope that the Minister can give us some comfort that this aspiration is practical. It is certainly not practical simply on the basis of this SI.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate on these regulations, which relate to electric vehicle charge points. I take seriously many of the issues raised by noble Lords.

My overarching observation is that the consultation for these regulations took place in the first half of 2021 and, since then, we have had to reach a balance and work hard with an industry that is, in some cases, quite nascent and, in others, made up of fast-growing businesses. We need to balance the burden that we put on business, its cost and the maximum reasonable utility to EV drivers. That balance is quite difficult, which, to a certain extent, is why there are delays in introducing some of these things. One needs to give the industry some time—for example, the two years to sign up to a third-party payment roaming provider. Of course, other interventions are within one year.

In positive news, we are already seeing a significant movement from the charge point providers because they know that this is coming now. These regulations have not yet been through the House of Commons but they will, and the providers know that they are coming. We are seeing movement and we have had to reach that difficult balance. A number of noble Lords have highlighted particular issues where they feel that further changes might be made, for example in certain circumstances where a charger is 7 kilowatts and the new requirement is 8 kilowatts, for contactless; that was brought up by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. We will do a consultation later this year.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked me to recognise that this is the start of a journey. It is very much so—I expect us to develop the requirements over time—but we absolutely do not want to stop the industry in its tracks by getting these charge points out there when it is very much helping the Government and the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, spoke about 99% resilience for the network as a whole. Again, that was one of the things we changed following the consultation. We moved from individual charge points to the network as a whole because we felt that that was more reasonable. I think he will probably not be surprised to learn that there are certain exemptions to that. Obviously, it is beyond the operator’s control that the Great British public unsupervised occasionally does things that it should not. In those circumstances, that would not count, although we would expect very quick repairs.

On the reliability issue, why does that not apply to the AC network, which is the one that most people use? It applies only to rapid charging, which is, I think, the DC network.

Again, it goes back to what we feel able to bring in at this time in terms of reliability. It will be something that we keep under review because we should be in a situation where we can require reliability. To my mind, the most important element of all this is open data because that will provide real-time information about whether a charge point is working and whether somebody is currently plugged into it. I accept that there will be circumstances where people are parked in a charging spot, as experienced by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech —that is very unhelpful—but many of the big concerns will be met by the open data. The other thing that will happen is that the roaming providers will start competing on the accessibility of that data and their ability to analyse it and provide it to drivers in an easy-to-use form.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, mentioned micro-businesses. As noble Lords will know, it is current standard practice to exclude micro-businesses. Most of them are not excluded from the requirement to do price transparency, which we think will be helpful. There are 28 micro-businesses that will be excluded from the requirements set out in these regulations. They operate around 5,000 devices so they are less than 10% of the market. One anticipates that those micro-businesses will not be micro-businesses for much longer because they will grow or there will be some consolidation in the market. However, that is the way that regulations often work; I hope it is helpful to have that explained.

There has been some focus on the helpline and the fact that calls may be held waiting despite being very valuable to the company. We agree that there is always a risk of that. The operators of 24/7 helplines will have to report to the Secretary of State every month on the total number of calls and the time it takes to resolve those issues, which I believe will be helpful.

I did not receive any questions about enforcement but I think it is worth noting that the Office for Product Safety and Standards will be the enforcement body for these regulations. It is very experienced at this. It will take a targeted approach to enforcement, so operators that we know are potentially not quite as good as others will get far more inspections than those we know are meeting not only the letter of the regulations but the spirit too. It is all about working with industry on this. We will take a pragmatic approach to enforcement but there will be financial penalties that can be used if required.

Turning to matters slightly beyond the statutory instrument, I know that noble Lords have a keen interest in the number of charge points. A number of figures have been bandied around. The Government stick to their estimate that we will need around 300,000 charge points at a minimum; we recognise that it is a minimum. In the past year, we have seen an increase of 38%. In May and June alone, we saw an extra 1,000 charge points going in, so there is momentum in installations coming down the track.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, was a little sceptical about whether we will even reach 300,000. Not everybody is sceptical. The independent National Infrastructure Commission has stated that it expects us to reach the figure if we can increase the number of charge points by around 30% per year, which has happened in recent years. Sometimes this needs a little financial help from government, and financial help is available. We have the rapid charging fund, which is good for less viable grid connection but also focuses very much on the strategic road network and motorway service stations. Then we have the local electric vehicle infrastructure fund. This comes to the point about how there are fewer charging points in certain areas. I encourage local authorities in those areas to ensure that they have made themselves aware of this fund and applied for it. Last time I looked, a number of local authorities had not. It is a way to improve areas. National government cannot do it but local authorities can pick up the baton and work with that.

I seem to have come to the end of my notes. I therefore hope that I have come to the end of your Lordships’ questions. However, as ever, my officials will read through Hansard. I am fairly sure that a letter will be forthcoming anyway because there will be other things that we would like to explain about these regulations.

Motion agreed.