Welsh Fuel Poverty a Runaway Problem

2006 Tachwedd 28 11:59 AM

Today, Welsh Liberal Democrats submitted an early day motion in Parliament calling on the Government to do far more to combat the fuel poverty epidemic in Wales that will affect one in every four households in Wales this winter.

"As winter looms, and energy prices get set to jump again, it is clear that fuel poverty in Wales is going to be an increasing problem. This winter, average annual energy bills will soar over £1,000 pushing over 300,000 Welsh households into fuel poverty - more than double the number in 2004.

"The Assembly Government's target of eradicating fuel poverty by 2010 looks impossible. Fuel poverty is a runaway problem in Wales affecting the welfare and health of one in four Welsh households.

"Thousands of Welsh households could have been saved from fuel poverty if the Government had improved energy efficiency standards for new houses two years ago, as it promised the EU it would. Now the Government is on the verge of being sued for failing to do this and fuel poverty has more than doubled since.

"Wales has some the least energy efficient housing in Western Europe. It is absolute madness that we are still building energy wasteful houses in Wales. This must stop. If the Assembly could set its own standards for buildings, the energy bills and carbon emissions of new Welsh houses could be a fraction of what they are today."

On Winter Fuel Payments, Jenny said:

"Last winter 1500 extra people in Wales died, in large part because they could not afford to heat their homes. This is appalling. The Government's winter fuel payments are becoming less and less effective. Three years ago, they would have covered 43% of someone's fuel bill, but today it covers less than a third.

"There is no point in giving people money for the winter if it just gets swallowed up by ever larger energy bills. We may as well just hand over the money to the energy companies.

"We would like to see the Government increase winter fuel payments with a condition that a proportion of the payments are spent upgrading the energy efficiency of the home. This will help get to the root cause of fuel poverty in Wales."

On Smart Meters, Jenny said:

"Smart meters are another way to tackle fuel poverty. Smart meters give people accurate information on how much money they are spending on energy as they use it - much like a parking meter.

"People are far less likely to waste energy if they can see the meter ticking up and up - it gives them more control. I would like to see the Government push smart meters forward in Wales as a priority."

Lembit Öpik, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and MP for Montgomeryshire, added:

"Energy efficient materials can help make huge savings from people's energy bills. But the initial up front cost often put people off buying these goods.

"If the Government reduced VAT on energy efficient materials, they would be far more attractive to consumers and could rapidly drive inefficient materials off the market altogether."

On the Energy Savings Trust, Lembit added:

"It is absurd that when fuel poverty is at epidemic levels, the Government is clawing back over £5m from the very people who are there to combat it.

"Adding VAT on the Energy Savings Trust expenditure came out of the blue and will damage efforts to reduce people's energy bills in Wales."

The Welsh Lib Dems are tabling an EDM today "Tackling Fuel Poverty in Wales":

EDM Tackling Fuel Poverty in Wales

That this house is deeply concerned with the rise in fuel poverty in Wales from 140,000 Welsh households in 2004, to over 300,000 this winter, which is one in four Welsh households; is deeply concerned for the welfare and health of thousands of Welsh pensioners and low income families who will be unable to afford to heat their homes this winter; notes that last winter there were 1500 excess winter deaths in Wales; is disappointed with the lack of new measures to tackle fuel poverty in the Government's energy review; believes far more needs to be done in Wales to tackle fuel poverty; and strongly urges the Government to consider expanding its fuel poverty strategy by reducing VAT on energy efficient materials, reversing its decision to impose VAT on Energy Savings Trust expenditure, increasing winter fuel payments and encouraging those eligible to invest some of this money into upgrading the energy efficiency of the home, substantially increasing the energy efficiency standards of new buildings at least in line with EU law, require all new buildings to have smart meters installed as standard and strongly encourage the uptake of microgeneration units.

SSE/Swalec have announced a price rise on 1st January of 12.2% for gas and 9.4% average increase on Electricity. They will however, still be one of the cheapest suppliers in Wales.

The European Commission is in the process of taking the Government to the European Court of Justice for failing to implement measures requested in the 2002 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive:

Energywatch, the energy consumer watchdog, estimate fuel bills in Wales to have risen as follows over the last few years:

Gas Electricity

Total

Jan-03 £330 £242 £572

Oct-04 £384 £274 £658

Oct-05 £440 £296 £736

Oct-06 £630 £383 £1013

Fuel poverty occurs when a household needs to spend 10% or more of its income on fuel to maintain satisfactory heating and other energy services. Any household spending 20% or more is deemed to be in severe fuel poverty.

The average SAP rating (standard assessment procedure for measuring the energy efficiency of a dwelling) for Welsh houses is 41, compared to 52 for England and 47 for Scotland according to the ONS.

All figures are from Energywatch, based on the most recent figures, except for the figures on winter fuel payments which are from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Energywatch provide free energy advice and help to consumer on 0800 33 66 99 or http://www.homeheathelpline.co.uk/ They have a Welsh language service too.

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