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Fuel Poverty

Volume 785: debated on Thursday 19 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of households in fuel poverty; and what action they intend to take to reduce that number.

My Lords, the latest official statistics show that in 2015 there were 2.5 million households in England living in fuel poverty. Some 70% of the £640 million energy company obligation is focused on improving the energy efficiency of these households. We also propose to bring an end to high energy prices by putting in place a price cap on standard variable and default tariffs and retaining the warm home discount.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. It appears ironical to me that a Question on fuel poverty is answered by saying that all consumers are being ripped off. The figures that we have been given may be the tip of the iceberg, as many older or infirm people need extra heating and do not appear in these statistics. The Minister will be aware, because of his previous responsibilities, of the premature deaths due to cold houses and the increase in childhood illnesses. The Government are missing their own targets and not fulfilling their legal obligations on this issue. Can the Government give us some information about what practical steps are being taken to eliminate the scourge of fuel poverty in the approaching winter?

I assure the noble Baroness that we take fuel poverty extremely seriously. Interestingly, there are 835,000 fewer fuel-poor homes within bands E, F and G than there were in 2010, so there are signs that targeting the energy company obligation more specifically at lower-income families is having an effect. With the Digital Economy Bill having gone through the House of Commons, I hope that we can target our resources more accurately to ensure that we meet the obligations set out in the sustainable growth paper that came out last week.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the delay in paying universal credit when it has been approved will be cut from six weeks to four weeks? What are the prospects of further reductions in that time delay?

My Lords, I am not able to answer that question. It is not specifically related to the Question in front of us, but it is none the less extremely important and I will write to the noble Lord later.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us why the Government have extended from 12 months to 18 months the period in which the energy company obligation will operate, and why they have put a cap on boilers in that transition period? Could the Government use the upcoming Budget to make sure that emergency funding is available to the most vulnerable for boiler repairs and replacement?

My Lords, I believe that the ECO is there until 2028. I do not recognise the 18-month figure that the noble Baroness mentions, but I will check that afterwards. As for how we spend the money under the energy company obligation, there is clear evidence that it is better put towards longer-term improvements such as insulation than the short-term repair of boilers. However, part of the ECO is spent on boiler repair.

My Lords, more than 6 million older people are very worried about this winter, and 14% go back to bed during the day because they are so worried about their fuel bills and doing so will keep the cost down. Will the Government commit to reforming the energy efficiency programme so that it is a national infrastructure priority? Will they also commit to bringing 2 million low-income homes up to the performance certificate standard band C by 2020 and all 6 million by 2025, as Age UK has requested?

The noble Baroness is right that fuel poverty is a desperate problem for many people. We have a target to bring everyone up to band C by 2030, to band D by 2025 and to band E by 2020. That was reiterated in the Conservative Party manifesto and we intend to keep to it.

My Lords, I commend the Government on the work they are doing to make homes warmer; I speak as vice-president of the NEA. Will the Minister take the simple measure of encouraging private landlords to improve their property by replacing single-glazed windows with double glazing wherever they can?

My noble friend makes a good point. As she will know, we are putting an obligation on all private landlords so that if they rent out their properties in 2018, they must have at least a band E category certificate on them. That will begin to make the kind of difference to which my noble friend refers.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register. The Minister will be aware that some 850,000 households, or 35%, of the people in fuel poverty are in the privately rented sector. In 2011, the coalition Government introduced regulations which are to take effect next year, but as far as can be discerned, very little in the way of instructions have been given to private landlords to carry out the necessary improvements to change the dreadful conditions that prevail for so many people. They now have less than a year to do something about it. Will the Government give us a clear indication of what will be required of landlords and when that will be published, so that landlords can get on with the job, if they have the stomach and resources to do it?

The noble Lord raises a very important point. As he will know, from 2018 private landlords will not be able to let their property to new tenants unless the property is at least band E. The cost of getting to band E is an issue that is under negotiation at the moment with Claire Perry, the Minister responsible for green energy. I hope that we will make some serious progress in that area over the next few months.

My Lords, that is a question that should be directed at poverty as a whole. The fact of the matter is that successive Governments, on both sides of this House and the other House, have done what they can to reduce poverty and to create a just and fairer society. So long as there are people living in poverty, whether fuel poverty or any other form of poverty, we have clearly failed.