Minister for Energy Alex White published A Strategy to Combat Energy Poverty on Tuesday (2nd February), which outlines new measures to improve the living standards and conditions of citizens experiencing energy poverty.
The new strategy includes a €20 million pilot project to improve energy efficiency in the homes of people with acute health conditions. It also envisages the future introduction of minimum thermal efficiency standards in rented accommodation. And it will see the energy regulator establish and address the factors that prevent people in energy poverty from switching suppliers to achieve lower bills.
After gaining Government approval for the programme, Minister White said: “I am proud to be a member of the first Irish Government to establish and implement a strategy on energy poverty. Despite inheriting some of the most challenging economic circumstances of any administration, we published the first ever national strategy in 2011.
“Since then, more than €2 billion has been spent to support the incomes of people in energy poverty. We have improved the energy efficiency of 140,000 homes in energy poverty through targeted interventions, and we have placed new legal obligations on energy suppliers to ensure that they assist customers in energy poverty.”
The centrepiece of the strategy is a new €20 million pilot scheme to provide free, deep energy efficiency interventions in the homes of people in energy poverty, who suffer acute health conditions and live in poorly insulated homes. The scheme will commence in March 2016 and will be expanded next year to target low-income households with young children – particularly one-parent families who experience the highest levels of deprivation.
Minister White said: “Living in a cold or damp home increases the risk of circulatory and respiratory conditions, particularly among the elderly. By upgrading the energy efficiency of their homes, we will improve residents’ health and comfort, reduce their energy bills, and relieve pressure on our health services.”
The strategy also heralds a public consultation on proposals to introduce minimum energy efficiency standards for rental accommodation. This would mean that, in time, properties could not be let unless they had a BER certificate above a certain standard. This would not be introduced before 2020, to give time for the property market to stabilise. It would then apply initially to new leases only, and it would be staged, starting with properties with the lowest BER rating.
The initiative will address the fact that people in rented accommodation are more than twice as likely as homeowners to live in a house with poor energy efficiency. This is because landlords are responsible for home improvements, while tenants are responsible for paying energy bills.
Minister White said “This initiative would be one of the biggest changes to the Irish rental market in the history of the State. Given its far-reaching consequences, a public consultation will take place later this year to gather evidence on the impact of this measure. While we want to ensure that people in rented accommodation live in warm, comfortable homes, we will not introduce measures that reduce the availability of rental accommodation.”
The strategy to combat energy poverty will also require the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) to examine why more electricity and gas customers in energy poverty don’t switch their energy supplier, despite the substantial savings that switching can bring. The CER will be asked to examine the structural factors that underpin consumer disengagement and outline possible solutions.
Note to Editors
Energy poverty is defined as an inability to heat or power a home to an adequate degree. This is usually a function of three factors:
- A person’s income
- The cost of energy, and
- The energy efficiency of the home.
It is currently quantified in Ireland using what is known as the ‘expenditure method,’ whereby a household that spends more than 10% of their income on energy is considered to be in energy poverty.