Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Questions (43)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

43. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress since he took office in tackling the problem of fuel poverty. [34718/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

There are forty-eight actions identified in the Affordable Energy Strategy, aimed at making energy more affordable for low-income households. This includes the following five priority measures: a commitment to review the National Fuel Scheme in the context of examining the feasibility of aligning income supports with the energy efficiency and income of the home, the phased introduction of minimal thermal efficiency standards for rental accommodation, ensuring greater access to energy efficiency measures, the introduction of an area based approach and reforming the eligibility criteria for energy efficiency schemes.

Work is being progressed by a range of Departments and Agencies on the implementation of the actions contained in the strategy. The Better Energy Warmer Homes programme is a pivotal element to the implementation of the Affordable Energy Strategy. Exchequer funding has enabled the delivery of energy efficiency measures in 99,471 homes since 2000. Despite the current economic challenges, the Government is committed to continuing to deliver energy efficiency measures to vulnerable households. The Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme has been allocated Exchequer funding of €21 million for 2013, which is expected to result in upgrades in nearly 12,000 homes.

Reform of the eligibility criteria for the Warmer Homes Scheme to address households in extreme energy poverty, defined as those who spend over 20% of their disposable income on energy services, was undertaken in 2012. Prior to this, applicants were considered eligible for the Scheme if they met defined criteria such as eligibility for the National Fuel Scheme. International research demonstrates that the elderly and pre-school children are most at risk. Taking this on board the criteria were revised to include; Fuel Allowance recipients; Job Seeker Allowance recipients (for over six months and with children under 7 years of age) and; recipients of Family Income Support.

The Fuel Allowance is funded by the Department of Social Protection and is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for Social Protection.

An area-based approach to the mitigation of energy poverty was introduced in 2012 and Exchequer funding of over €4.1 million was disbursed via this new model. The project uptake was so successful that it was extended into 2013.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is currently undertaking a pilot programme of delivering energy efficiency upgrades to local authority owned homes, where the tenants are experiencing energy poverty. This is an innovative pilot allowing local authority tenants participate in the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme, for the first time. The expected number of homes to be addressed under the pilot is approximately 50 over the coming months, in the Longford and South Dublin County Council areas.