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Electric Vehicles: Supporting Access

Volume 822: debated on Monday 6 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to mitigating the impact of the increase in the cost of living by helping those who are most dependent on their car as a mode of transport through supporting access to electric vehicles.

My Lords, we want people across the country to have the opportunity to switch to electric vehicles. In many cases, EVs are already cheaper to own and run than a petrol or diesel equivalent. Even with recent trends in electricity prices, EVs benefit from lower fuel costs than their petrol and diesel equivalents.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a board member of the independent transport research group New AutoMotive. I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Just this weekend we have seen that fuel prices have again spiked by 3p a litre, and it is true that the running costs of an electric vehicle can be up to 80% cheaper per mile. It is therefore absolutely imperative that the people who need to make the switch and who have no affordable alternatives but to use a car must have access to electric vehicles. Could the Minister comment on whether the Government have looked into the possibility of making zero-interest loans available for those who travel the most miles? What more can be done in the forthcoming ZEV mandate regulations to help get the right cars into the hands of those who need them the most?

My Lords, the Government are doing an enormous amount to make sure that the take-up of electric vehicles is as swift as possible. We have introduced plug-in grants, we will be spending £1.6 billion in total to support charging infrastructure, and there are favourable tax elements relating to zero-emission vehicles. At the moment, the Government do not have any plans to introduce a specific zero-interest loan scheme for the purchase of electric vehicles, although there are various loan schemes on the market that people may wish to look at. On the zero-emission vehicle mandate, we are currently conducting a technical consultation on the design parameters for the mandate, which is open until 10 June.

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that it is cheaper to run electric vehicles, but that rather depends on the price that people have to pay for buying the current. Would she agree that those who are in most need of cheaper vehicles will probably be paying the highest price for their electricity, depending on where they get it from? In addition, when will she insist that all the plugs and sockets for the different makes of cars are interchangeable?

The noble Lord was quite right to say that it depends on where people get the electricity from. It is the case that, for many people who are able to charge at home using off-peak electricity, prices can be as low as 2p per mile for the running costs of an electric vehicle. However, the Government are very cognisant of the fact that we need to introduce charging infrastructure in more places other than peoples’ driveways, which is why we reformed the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme in April 2022 to provide more help for those in flats and in buildings owned by others.

My Lords, further to that answer, can the Minister tell the House how the Government justify the fact that households with off-street parking are able to charge their electric cars at the reduced VAT rate of 5% while households without off-street parking, which are often on lower incomes, are required to pay the standard 20% VAT rate? What does the Minister intend to do to fix that?

I will write to the noble Lord about those differences in VAT rates, that being a matter for the Treasury and one on which I am not briefed today. However, I would say that the Government have announced a local EV infrastructure fund pilot of £10 million, which will look at technically and commercially innovative proposals coming from local authorities to help those people who do not have driveways to be able to charge their cars near their home.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, is quite right that more access to electric cars would be very nice. However, in the immediate situation, for those who cannot afford to buy an electric car, or a new car at all, does my noble friend agree that the quickest and cheapest way to get down the cost of oil, gas and transport—with a knock-on for food and inflation as well—is for much more oil and gas to be pumped into global markets quickly? Did she notice that, last Thursday, the meeting of OPEC sounded much more co-operative about doing just that and having a major impact on prices? Does she welcome that?

Energy security is a priority for Her Majesty’s Government. Great Britain already has highly diverse and flexible sources of gas supply and a diverse electricity mix.

My Lords, car clubs often use electric vehicles and offer the benefits of clearing our roads, fewer miles and cleaner air. Have the Government done anything to benefit car clubs since 2014, when the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, announced £500,000 for them?

The Government are hugely supportive of car clubs. To be honest, they benefit from various government measures. For example, people using car clubs can use the chargers, the rollout of which the Government are supporting across the country. We do not have any specific proposals for financial support for car clubs, but we welcome them and think they have a core part to play in future.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of Transport for the North. Will my noble friend outline what the Government are doing to work in partnership with the private sector to ensure that we have much more rollout of availability of superchargers throughout the country, to give confidence to people who already own or are thinking of purchasing an electric vehicle?

My noble friend is absolutely right: it is not up to the Government alone; it must be up to support from both the Government and the private sector. That is why the Government are investing, alongside the private sector, in a £400 million fund for charging points. To date, between the Government and industry, we have supported more than 30,000 publicly available devices.

My Lords, a recent Which? report pinpointed the problem of the lack of interoperability between multiple payment systems for EV charge points. It is nothing short of sharp practice that EV owners have money tied up in what are effectively useless apps and cards—I say “useless” because so many charge points are out of commission. The Government have the power to insist on the use of ordinary credit and debit cards at EV charge points, so that paying is easy. Why have they done nothing about that so far?

The Government accept that reliability is absolutely key when it comes to EV charging. We will look at minimum reliability standards for charge points and hold poor-performing operators to account; we are looking at mandating a 99% reliability metric across the rapid charging network. We will regulate for minimum payment methods, such as contactless, and payment roaming at new charge points over 7.1 kilowatts. We will also look at retrofitting existing charge points over 50 kilowatts.

My Lords, can the Minister indicate whether the Government will pay particular attention to promoting access to electric vehicles in rural areas, which are already disadvantaged by a lack of adequate public transport?

The Government feel that the take-up of electric vehicles should be countrywide. The key thing about rural areas is making sure that they have appropriate access to charge points. We are aware that rural areas are more poorly served than their urban equivalents, which is why we are looking carefully at the amount of support we can give to local authorities. For example, so far, 157 local authorities have applied to the On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme—I wish it were more—and we expect 11,000 charge points to be rolled out with this scheme. I really do think that there is an opportunity for rural local authorities to grasp the financial support that the Government have made available.

My Lords, quite apart from the cost of electricity, does my noble friend accept that many people in this country are reliant on cars with a price point of roughly £15,000? That would not buy you an electric battery, let alone an electric car. Are the Government not in danger of pricing large numbers of people out of car ownership altogether?

My noble friend is right that many people do not buy any vehicle. Indeed, fleet operator businesses represent around half of the new vehicles purchased in this country. It is important that those vehicles then come into the secondary used car market once they have ended their useful life within businesses. That happens after around three years, so we expect a number of zero-emission vehicles to come into the used car market in due course. We recognise that there are probably not enough of them there now, but that is just a function of time. We can work with fleet operator businesses and get them to buy new zero-emission vehicles, which will then come into the used car market.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, because of the paucity of public transport outside London, many workers—including quite low-paid ones—are absolutely dependent on a motor car? Does she also accept that the private sector, which is so praised in the department’s latest guidance, does not have a good record of making sure that facilities such as this are provided at reasonable cost? Is it an objective of the Government to make sure that people who have cars for their work today will be able to afford and run them in future?

The noble Lord raises a number of issues. It is worth pointing out that the private sector has been incredibly successful in the rollout of energy sources in the past. I do not believe that previous Governments would mandate petrol stations in certain places, nor spend billions of pounds supporting their introduction, but we are very clear that we will support the introduction of charging points. On public transport, I beg to differ: this Government are investing billions of pounds of both capital and revenue to support public transport in our great cities and our rural areas.