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‘(1) The principal purpose of this Part is to deliver energy savings from the building stock which will make commensurate contributions to—
(a) the fulfilment by the Secretary of State of the duties under section 1(1) (reduction of net UK carbon account by 2050) and section 4(1)(b)(carbon budgets) of the Climate Change Act 2008; and
(b) the elimination of fuel poverty by the target date required by section 2(2)(d) of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000.
(2) In performing functions under this Part the Secretary of State will have regard to—
(a) the principal purpose set out in subsection (1) above, and
(b) the recommendations from time to time of the Committee on Climate Change where these are adopted by the Secretary of State.’.—(Luciana Berger.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
‘(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish a plan for achieving the principal purpose set out in section [Energy efficiency aim] in England.
(2) The plan must establish specific aims and describe the proposed means of achieving them, together with methods of reporting on progress towards meeting them.
(3) Where an aim is designated under this section, the Secretary of State must take all reasonable steps to achieve the aim.
(4) The plan prepared under subsection (1) must be published no later the 12 months after the day on which this section comes into force.
(5) The Secretary of State must, as soon as reasonably practicable after publishing a plan under this section lay it before Parliament.
(6) The Secretary of State must, within one year of each order setting a carbon budget under section 8(1) of the Climate Change Act 2008, review the plan prepared and published under this section.
(7) Where, following a review under subsection (6), the Secretary of State varies the plan, he must, as soon as reasonably practicable after so doing, publish the plan as so varied.’.
New clause 3—Carbon emissions in local authority areas —
(a) the scale of action needed in local authority areas to help meet UK Climate Change Act carbon budgets;
(b) climate mitigation and adaptation policies that are effective when locally co-ordinated by councils.
(2) The advice given under subsection (1) should include but not be limited to—
(a) carbon emissions from a local authority’s own buildings and operations;
(b) carbon emissions from the local area;
(c) local renewable energy generation;
(d) national carbon reduction initiatives delivered at the local level
(3) The Committee on Climate Change may advise the Secretary of State on local level adaption to climate change to ensure that individual local carbon budgets are both appropriate for the circumstances of different local areas that the totality of all local carbon budgets is consistent with the requirements of subsection (1)(a).
(4) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a response to the advice given by the Committee on Climate Change under subsection (1) or (2), within six months of receiving the advice.
(5) For the purposes of this section—
(a) “budgetary period”, “carbon budget” and “national authorities” have the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008;
(b) “local authority” means a county council or district council in England, or a London borough council, or the Council of Isles of Scilly.’.
New clause 4—Climate change strategy for local authority areas —
‘(1) Local authorities must develop and promote a climate change strategy for their local area.
(2) In preparing the strategy, local authorities must take into account any advice given by the Committee on Climate Change on local action to meet carbon budgets.
(3) In preparing the strategy, local authorities must consult with local residents, businesses, social enterprises and co-operatives and other institutions.
(4) Local authorities must publish and promote their local climate change strategy, publish an annual report on progress towards carrying out the strategy and engage with local citizens and community groups.
(5) The Secretary of State must work with local authorities and the Local Government Association to assist them in producing and implementing their climate change strategies, taking into account any relevant advice from the Committee on Climate Change.’.
New clause 7—Supplementing the Energy Company Obligation —
‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent, report to Parliament with proposals on the ways in which the Energy Company Obligation could be supplemented by—
(a) revenues from the European Emissions Trading Scheme;
(b) revenues from the Carbon Floor Price;
(c) an additional tax on the profits of gas transporters and suppliers, and electricity generators, distributors and suppliers; and
(d) such other funds as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(2) In considering the supplement to the Energy Company Obligation that may be made by the sources of funds listed in section (1) the Secretary of State must include an estimate of—
(a) the extent to which the additional sources of funds listed in subsection (1) could increase the contribution made by a carbon emissions reduction target and a home-heating target to meeting—
(i) the carbon budgets established under the Climate Change Act 2008; and
(ii) the fuel poverty target established under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000.
(b) the extent to which the additional sources of funds listed in subsection (1) could allow the Secretary of State to increase the level of a carbon emissions reduction target and a home-heating cost reduction target without increasing the cost of household gas or electricity bills.
(3) The proposals reported under subsection (1) of this Clause must include an assessment of the extent to which the Energy Company Obligation could make a greater contribution to—
(a) the carbon budgets established under the Climate Change Act 2008, and
(b) the fuel poverty target established under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 if charges levied on consumers’ bills under this obligation were levied on a per kilowatt hour basis.
(4) The assessment made under subsection (3) must take into account the effect on equity for those living in fuel poverty of levying charges on consumer bills under the Energy Company Obligation on a per kilowatt hour basis.’.
New clause 18—Disclosure of information for the purpose of reducing fuel poverty —
‘(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision authorising the Secretary of State, or a person providing services to the Secretary of State, to supply relevant persons with social security and tax credit information about persons in receipt of welfare benefits.
(2) In this section “relevant person” means—
(b) a person providing services to the Secretary of State or to a person within paragraph (a).
(3) Regulations under this section must specify the purposes for which information may be supplied by virtue of subsection (1), which must be purposes in connection with reducing fuel poverty or making homes more energy efficient.
(4) Regulations under this section may authorise the supply of information by a relevant person to the Secretary of State or another relevant person—
(a) for the purpose of determining what information is to be supplied by virtue of subsection (1), or
(b) to enable information supplied to a relevant person by virtue of subsection (1) to be used by that or another relevant person for purposes within subsection (3).
(5) Regulations under this section may—
(a) make provision as to the use or disclosure of information supplied under the regulations (including provision creating criminal offences);
(b) provide for the recovery by the Secretary of State of costs incurred in connection with the supply or use of information under the regulations.
(6) In this section—
(a) “social security information” means information held by or on behalf of the Secretary of State and obtained as a result of, or for the purpose of, the exercise of the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to social security;
(b) “tax credit information” means information held by or on behalf of the Secretary of State and obtained as a result of, or for the purpose of, the exercise of the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to tax credits;
(c) “welfare benefit” means any prescribed benefit, allowance, payment or credit.’.
New clause 19—Additional information provided by energy suppliers —
‘The Secretary of State shall make provision for energy suppliers to—
(a) ensure a generic signpost message is displayed prominently on all customer bills from
(b) ensure a letter reaches all of their customers by
(c) implement, by
(i) a generic signpost message, to be displayed prominently on customers’ bills;
(ii) a more detailed message, quoting pounds saved depending on payment method and tariff, as influenced by the customer’s actual usage over a 12-month period where appropriate; in encouraging customers to switch to that supplier’s cheapest standard tariff available.’.
Amendment 2, in clause 42, page 27, line 37, after ‘landlord’, insert ‘, or his appointed agent,’.
Amendment 3, page 28, line 4, after ‘may not let’, insert
‘, let on behalf of the landlord as his appointed agent or market to let’.
Amendment 4, page 28, line 7, at end insert
‘such that the property shall not fall below the level of energy efficiency specified in subsection (1 )(c).’.
Amendment 5, page 28, line 13, after ‘“let the property”’, insert ‘and “market to let”’.
Amendment 19, page 28, line 31, at end insert—
‘(5A) The first domestic energy efficiency regulations shall be made no later than
Amendment 47, page 28, line 33, leave out ‘April 2018’ and insert ‘January 2016’.
Amendment 6, page 28, line 33, leave out ‘2018’ and insert ‘2016’.
Amendment 48, in clause 45, page 30, line 36, leave out ‘April 2016’ and insert ‘January 2013’.
Amendment 7, page 30, line 36, leave out ‘2016’ and insert ‘2013’.
Amendment 8, in clause 46, page 31, line 4, at end insert—
‘(e) any protections to be afforded to a tenant making a request under the regulations, including, if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate, the circumstances in which no notice under section 21(1)(b) or (4) of the Housing Act 1988 may be given pending the outcome of the request.
‘(1A) In determining whether it is appropriate to make provision under subsection (1)(e), the Secretary of State shall take into account the advice of any relevant body or bodies.’.
Amendment 24, in clause 70, page 52, line 28, at end insert—
‘(ab) to publish a report setting out the intended impact of a carbon emissions reduction order or a home-heating cost reduction order on fuel poverty and on the energy efficiency of domestic properties of different tenures.’.
Amendment 25, in clause 73, page 55, line 11, at end insert—
‘(2A) The Secretary of State may in addition require the register referred to in subsection (1) to record information on—
(a) the tenure of each property; and
(b) in the case of a domestic PR property, the name and address of the landlord.’.
Amendment 23, in clause 74, page 55, line 43, at end insert—
‘(2A) The Secretary of State may in addition require the register referred to in subsection (1) to record information on—
(a) the tenure of each property; and
(b) in the case of a domestic PR property, the name and address of the landlord.’.
Amendment 1, in clause 107, page 88, line 33, after subsection (1) insert—
‘(1A) In setting out the extent to which the green deal plans under Chapter 1 of Part 1 and energy company obligations have contributed to the Secretary of State fulfilling the duty under section 4(1)(b) of the Climate Change Act 2008 (carbon budgeting), the Secretary of State must if necessary explain why the appropriate contribution has not been made and the additional measures he will bring forward.’.
Amendment 9, in clause 108, page 89, line 6, leave out ‘residential accommodation’ and insert ‘buildings’.
Amendment 10, page 89, line 8, at end insert
‘in such a way as to ensure that the energy efficiency of buildings makes its optimal contribution to the delivery of a low carbon energy system at least cost.’.
Amendment 11, page 89, line 9, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘( ) In subsection (1) “energy system” means the production, transmission, distribution, storage and consumption of energy.’.
Amendment 12, page 89, line 14, at end insert—
‘(5) The Secretary of State must within 12 months of the passing of this Act publish a report on the steps that he has taken and proposes to take to discharge his duty under subsection (1).’.
Amendment 21, page 89, line 14, at end insert—
‘(5) For the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State to fulfil his duty pursuant to this section, each energy conservation authority must—
(a) take reasonable steps to increase the installation of energy efficiency improvements in residential accommodation in its area;
(b) involve persons and communities in its area in seeking to increase the installation of energy efficiency improvements in its area; and
(c) include a description of the steps it has taken pursuant to this section in its report pursuant to section 2 of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.
(6) An energy conservation authority must also consider whether, as a means of assisting the Secretary of State to fulfil his duty pursuant to the Climate Change Act 2008, it would be cost effective to draw up a sustainable energy plan for its area.
(7) In this section—
(a) “energy conservation authority” has the same meaning as in the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995;
(b) “energy efficiency improvements” are such measures as are specified by section 2(4), (5) and (6) of this Act; and
(c) “a sustainable energy plan” is a plan promoting energy from sustainable or renewable sources.’.
With so many households struggling under the weight of increased energy bills and fuel poverty at record levels, improving the energy efficiency of our nation’s building stock and reducing our energy use has never been more important. A successful green deal scheme would offer protection to worried consumers hit by unfair gas and electricity price rises and reduce our country’s damaging carbon emissions. As they stand, however, the Government’s proposals lack detail, fail to provide clarity to businesses and risk being inadequate. The new clauses and amendments that we have tabled for debate today seek to rectify the Bill’s weaknesses.
Since the Bill was first published last December, we have endeavoured to work constructively with Ministers to improve the proposals, not just because the green deal was born out of pilots begun under Labour in government, but because we recognise the urgent need to improve energy efficiency across our country. We are disappointed that the Bill did not receive Royal Assent before the summer recess, as the Government promised it would. Meeting that deadline was used by Ministers as a justification for expediting debate during the Bill’s previous stages. In addition, the large volume of secondary legislation involved calls into question whether the green deal will be up and running by October next year, which has been set as the Government’s deadline.
We offered a raft of proposals in Committee to increase consumer protection, boost small businesses and provide extra support for those struggling to heat their homes. Our vision of the green deal is one where co-operatives, small businesses, charities and social enterprises can compete equally alongside large companies that want to take part in the scheme. Our vision is of a scheme that supports Britain’s 2 million small businesses, rather than simply leaving them with warm words and empty order books, which is what the Government risk doing. The Government voted against our vision, although I am delighted that Ministers did not oppose our proposal for a green deal apprenticeship scheme. I assure the Minister that all of us on the Labour Benches will be joining him at the next general election to champion the Government’s policy—Labour’s green deal apprenticeship scheme.
Despite that victory, we still have huge concerns that the Bill will not be as effective as it should be. As a result, we have tabled the new clauses and amendments in this group, which, if passed, would define the scale and purpose of the green deal. They would incentivise councils and engage local communities in the fight against climate change, give businesses the confidence to invest by linking the scheme to the UK’s statutory carbon reduction targets, and end the misery for the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are left freezing, shivering under their blankets because they live in cold homes that are not fit for the 21st century.
Labour’s new clauses 1 and 2 would address the lack of clarity in the Bill, better define the purpose of the green deal and ensure that businesses have the clarity and confidence they need in the green deal scheme. Together with amendment 1, our new clauses would explicitly link the green deal to meeting the UK’s targets in our carbon budgets and our fuel poverty targets. New clauses 1 and 2 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to produce a plan for improving energy efficiency and a duty on the Government to report to Parliament on the green deal’s progress towards achieving carbon reductions.
We have heard many soundbites from Ministers about the green deal, such as their description of it as “the biggest home improvement programme since the second world war”, but the Bill contains no strategy for delivering it. We have heard today about the 14 million homes to be improved by 2020, yet we have seen no way to measure whether the green deal is delivering the refit of 4,800 properties a day, or 145,000 a month. None of that is in the Bill. As it stands, there is a danger that the green deal will not live up to the hype. I do not relish saying that: the Opposition want the Bill to be better, not worse, and we want the green deal to succeed, not fail. That is why we believe the Government must go further.
We are not the only ones voicing legitimate concern. After Committee, 51 organisations, including the World Wildlife Fund, Asda and the Federation of Small Businesses, sent a letter to the Secretary of State setting out the concerns that they still had about the Bill. They wrote:
“the debate during the Committee Stage of the Energy Bill has left us concerned that the energy saving programme is not yet guaranteed to be a coherent and ambitious programme, and that the Bill requires further significant improvements. We believe there needs to be an over-arching energy saving plan from the Government to ensure clarity of what is needed to be delivered by the market…Business will find it difficult to be in a position to deliver towards the Government’s aspirations on the Green Deal without this further clarity and certainty.”
The letter concluded:
“It is our view that the Government amendments need to go significantly further and currently do not deliver on the principles reflected in the Warm Homes Amendment. They do not deliver a policy ambition equivalent to the Government’s aspirations or ensure the provision of a plan to cut carbon emissions from buildings and contribute to eliminating fuel poverty.”
The letter proposes three ways to improve the Bill. The first is that
“an aim must be clarified in the Energy Bill that is tied to meeting the target set under…the Climate Change Act 2008, and importantly the individual carbon budgets. The aim must also be tied to the elimination of fuel poverty.”
The second is that an
“amendment to prepare and publish a plan to deliver these aims must be included in the Energy Bill.”
The third proposal is that a
“reporting amendment should ensure…the energy saving programme is linked with other…requirements”.
All three improvements could be made today if the Government accepted our new clauses.
The letter is signed by organisations as diverse as B&Q, Marks & Spencer, Friends of the Earth, the Co-operative Group and the National Insulation Association—the very organisations and businesses that the Government hope will deliver the green deal. Environmental groups, businesses and trade associations are all telling the Government the same thing: “You haven’t got this right. You need to go further.” They are asking the Government to do what the Opposition have suggested in this House and in the other place, but we are now running out of opportunities for the Minister to listen and change his mind.
In Committee, the Government added clause 108 to explain their ambitions for the green deal better, but unfortunately it is inadequate. The clause contains no qualified level of ambition and excludes non-residential properties. By repealing section 2 of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 and introducing clause 108 to the Bill, the Government are in fact diluting existing energy efficiency requirements. That is why we have tabled amendment 1, alongside new clauses 1 and 2, to ensure that the Government’s green deal definitely results in real carbon reductions. We will press new clauses 1 and 2 to a vote if Government support is not forthcoming, because they are crucial to the success of the programme.
New clauses 3 and 4 would ensure that Britain’s transition to a low-carbon economy is fair. They would place power into the hands of councils and give them the freedom and flexibility to engage with local communities in finding innovative solutions to tackling climate change. They would boost the economy and create jobs by encouraging investment in green businesses. In practice, they would establish a three-stage process. The first part would involve the independent Committee on Climate Change examining the carbon output in every locality and assessing what reasonable action could be taken to reduce carbon emissions; those data would then be used by councils and central Government to agree a local carbon strategy, providing a road map for how the area would reduce its emissions. The local authority could use the strategy to engage the local community and voluntary groups in efforts to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency.
That idea is not new. The previous Labour Government introduced a pilot programme involving nine councils in January 2010. I am pleased that the Minister announced in Committee that further pilots were to follow, but what we are proposing would allow us to take advantage of economic opportunities that we are failing to exploit. The Federation of Small Businesses, speaking in support of local carbon plans, argues:
“Small businesses are keen to go green…but are not getting the help or incentives they need to do so”.
It goes on to say that they need
“a framework that is flexible and supportive to encourage small businesses rather than penalise them.”
Our new clauses would provide such a framework. They would provide certainty about the scale of carbon reductions locally while allowing local authorities to retain flexibility on how they go about achieving the cuts. It is vital that businesses play an integral role in tackling climate change. According to the FSB, at least one third of the UK’s emissions are from businesses, and the Carbon Trust estimates that 20% of the UK’s emissions are from small and medium-sized enterprises. The FSB calculates that if all UK businesses and public sector organisations install energy-efficient measures, at least £3.6 billion could be saved every year, thanks to the reduction in energy consumption. As well as helping businesses to cut energy usage and reduce costs, estimates of the potential for low-carbon job creation are significant.
Research by Carbon Descent estimates that 70,000 jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy could be created across the country if all local authorities set about reducing emissions in their areas by at least 40% by 2020. It is easy to see why the proposals have a wide backing both from business and environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, the Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC, Good Energy, B&Q, the Stop Climate Chaos coalition and, most importantly, local government.
Rather than being seen as a burden by local councils, these proposals have a broad range of backing across local authorities. In March, 40 council leaders from across the political spectrum called for the introduction of local carbon plans. For many councils, the plans build on work they are already doing. By pledging to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 or rolling out grant-funded renewable installation schemes, councils of all political colours—in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Brighton, Islington, West Sussex and Bristol—are leading the way. Although some councils are making good progress, it is clear that others need to do much more. Any advice to councils from the Committee on Climate Change needs to be meaningful. The level of carbon reductions recommended must be in line with our national carbon budgets and we need to ensure that councils share best practice and policies that successfully deliver local emission reductions, as well as advise each council on the steps that it could take to meet its plan.
The proposals in the new clauses will empower local councils, engage local communities and enhance local economies. They offer a fair way to meet our national climate change targets. We recognise that not every part of our country is the same and that we all need to share the same aim. Ultimately, every one of us needs to do our bit to tackle climate change. We need to go further; we need local carbon plans.
Amendments 47 and 48 would bring forward from 2018 to 2016 the introduction of a minimum standard of energy efficiency in the private rented sector, in line with the UK’s legal target to eliminate fuel poverty. We welcomed the Government’s announcement on Second Reading that they would introduce a minimum standard of energy efficiency for the private rented sector, but we do not believe that a 2018 deadline is adequate; we need to go much faster.
According to the Government, half the properties in the private rented sector are not considered to be of a decent standard. It cannot be right in the 21st century that people are forced to live in unfit homes that they cannot afford to heat. About 1.3 million children live in cold homes. The Marmot review found that this makes them twice as likely to suffer from respiratory problems than children living in warm homes. Anyone who watched the recent BBC documentary, “Poor Kids”, will have seen the haunting footage of Sam who, at the age of 11, said:
“When the gas runs out, the whole house is freezing.”
We must urgently address that problem.
The UK has a legally binding target of eliminating fuel poverty by 2016. How can the Government not introduce the efficiency standard in time to help reach that goal? We know that fuel poverty is at record levels. In July, uSwitch published research showing that a staggering 6.3 million homes across the UK are paying 10% or more of their disposable income towards their energy bills. That means that almost a quarter of all households—24%—find it hard to afford to stay warm. Most worryingly, those figures do not take into account the huge price rises announced over the summer. When those increases hit, the number of people in difficulty will increase dramatically. That should be a wake-up call to the Government. Instead, over the past year, the Government have systematically removed support for fuel-poor households—from scrapping the Warm Front scheme to cutting winter fuel payments by up to £100. They have an opportunity to go some way to rectifying their record by bringing forward the introduction of the minimum efficiency standard.
By ensuring that poor-quality F and G-rated homes are no longer allowed on the rental market, the amendments would improve the living standards of thousands, many of whom are forced to live in the cold simply because their landlords do not know what improvements can be made, or because the owners of properties refuse to improve them. The amendments would end that sooner rather than later, and we sincerely hope that Ministers will support them. The 2016 target still allows adequate time for landlords to be made aware of the changes and to improve their properties.
Amendments 23 and 25 would establish a national landlords register to ensure that the minimum standard is enforceable. A register tightly defined as being for the purpose relevant to the Act would reduce enforcement costs, increase compliance, and help landlords to gain access to appropriate information about the green deal and other schemes such as the landlords energy-saving allowance. It would also leave rogue landlords unable to avoid improving their properties, and with nowhere to hide.
I hope that Ministers will consider carefully the changes that we are proposing, which are intended to improve on what is already in the Bill. I thank the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Gregory Barker, for the way in which he has dealt with Opposition Front Benchers during the progress of the Bill. It was necessary for us to meet him on several occasions and although we did not always agree on the best way forward, he was always courteous in his dealings with us, and I thank him for that.
Our new clauses and amendments would substantially strengthen a Bill that lacks clarity and detail. They would make improving the energy efficiency of our building stock a key part of our strategy for meeting the United Kingdom’s carbon budgets. They would put local communities at the heart of tackling climate change, boost small businesses and non-profit-making organisations —particularly co-operatives and charities—and provide extra support for those who struggle to stay warm. I urge the Government to accept them.
I want to speak to new clause 19, to which my name is attached.
There is much evidence to suggest that too many customers are overpaying for their energy and failing to take advantage of the best offers from energy suppliers. The coalition agreement rightly contains a commitment that energy suppliers will provide information about cheaper tariffs on the bills and statements that they send to their customers, but although energy bills have become longer, evidence suggests that the additional information has had only a limited effect in encouraging customers to switch to cheaper tariffs. What is required is much clearer information on tariffs, tailored to a customer’s actual usage and payment option, to help customers to move to a company’s cheapest tariff. New clause 19 aims to make that a reality.
The case for more clarity on bills is very strong. The average annual energy bill has doubled since 2004; bills have risen significantly this year alone, and may do so yet again before the winter. According to analysis by Which?, the cost of energy is the number one financial concern of nine out of 10 customers. It is of particular concern to the vulnerable in society, especially those who live in fuel poverty. Estimates of their number vary, but I do not think there is any disagreement on the fact that there are between 5 million and 6 million of them.
The problem is that tariff structures are too complex. According to Ofgem’s retail market review, well over 300 tariffs were available to customers at the beginning of 2011. Research by Ofgem and Which? has found that people are baffled by not just the number but the many components of energy tariffs, such as standing charges, tiered rates, discounts and cashback offers. Ofgem calculates that one third of those who switch do not achieve a price reduction, although the vast majority switch in order to save money. That fuels cynicism in the energy market. Only one in three customers trusts the supplier to sell them the best tariff, and Ofgem believes that as many as six in 10 energy customers are inactive, many being completely disengaged from the energy market and potentially paying over the odds.
A further complication is that different payment methods have different outcomes. According to Ofgem, a customer who at the beginning of last year had changed their payment method from standard credit—paying on receipt of a bill—to direct debit could have saved more than £120. Which? estimates that more than 11 million households could benefit from switching to a direct debit payment method. I do not claim that all such households would want to, or that all would be able to, because many do not have a bank account, but that figure is great enough for this issue to warrant closer scrutiny.
Clarification is needed on the green deal and prepayment meters, which are a method that households can use to manage their budget.
The hon. Gentleman makes a decent point. There is a lack of clarity on a range of issues. We want to encourage people to get on to their company’s cheapest standard direct debit tariff. We must try to ensure that bills are clearer, otherwise people will continue to pay too much for their energy.
I am concerned that some people with prepayment meters will not be able to switch to direct debit. What is the hon. Gentleman’s view on prepayment meters? People will load up and pay heavily on the meter in the winter, but budget and save in the summer. Under the green deal, payment rates will now differ, however. By the end of the summer, people may have a backlog in what is effectively a standing charge on the green deal.
That is a fair point, but I would say in reply that what we need is greater clarity on bills about the availability of cheaper tariffs depending on payment method, which would include prepayment. We are not getting that at present. At best, we are getting generic messages saying, in effect, “You may be able to save money if you ring this number,” but the evidence suggests that such messages are not sufficiently strong to incentivise people to find the cheapest tariff. New clause 19 addresses that specific point.
In the Retail Market Review, Ofgem stated its disappointment that the energy suppliers have not abided by what it considers to be the spirit of its post-2008 Energy Supply Probe standards of conduct, and that they have not always made details about switching as prominent as they might—although some companies have gone further than others. Ofgem is therefore frustrated about the lack of progress in this area.
Having questioned both the previous and the current Governments about the need to do more in this area, I was pleased to see a coalition commitment that energy suppliers should provide information about cheaper tariffs on the bills and statements they send to their customers. In October last year, I sent a letter to the Secretary of State suggesting a solution to these problems, which involved energy suppliers printing clearly on customers’ bills how much money they would save if they were on their supplier’s cheapest standard tariff, assuming different payment methods. I felt that talking about pounds, shillings and pence—I was brought up in the pre-decimalisation era—sent a much stronger message than giving just general signposting information.
Discussions followed and in June 2011 I was invited by the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Gregory Barker, to chair a billing stakeholder group to make recommendations about the implementation of the coalition agreement commitment. The group comprised representatives from the Department, from ERA—the energy retail association, representing the energy suppliers—and from consumer groups such as Which?, Consumer Focus, Citizens Advice and Ofgem. Useful meetings were held over the summer and I thank all the members of the group for their contributions.
During that process, two proposals emerged. The first, suggested by ERA, was for a generic signpost message, including a telephone number or website that customers could use to find cheaper tariff options, to be displayed prominently on customer bills. The second proposal reflected the view of Which? and my proposal in my letter of
I am particularly concerned and exercised about people who never receive a bill, particularly pre-payment meter customers or card meter customers. Of course, there is the opportunity to have a large message printed on the receipt printout that one receives when paying at an outlet, and I hope that that option is included in the proposals. Also, there may be the option of ensuring that people who pay in advance for the sake of convenience or because they have an erratic income might be given a clear definition of what they might save by moving to a standard tariff.
My hon. Friend makes a good point and I shall come to that issue in relation to new clause 19.
Although ERA objected to the second proposal, the general consensus in the group was that the second, more tailored proposal was the way forward, because a message about potential savings in pounds, shilling and pence was thought to be powerful than a simple signposting message. Ofgem acknowledged that this was in line with its direction of travel and cited research finding that customers are more likely to be interested in information that is personalised to their needs and circumstances. ERA was opposed to the second proposal for a variety of reasons, such as that suppliers’ billing systems could not handle such a change in time for this winter and that they wished to wait for Ofgem’s retail market review findings.
Let me outline the recommendations from the billing stakeholder group. First, it accepted ERA’s view that the second proposal was not possible this winter. It was therefore agreed that energy suppliers should send out a letter to their customers—not an annual statement, because a lot of people do not get one—in time for this winter, clearly detailing the extent to which customers were overpaying or underpaying compared with that supplier’s cheapest standard direct debit tariff. Ofgem already requires this to be done once every 12 months, but has been disappointed by energy suppliers’ responses to date. We are not asking for anything new, but simply for something that Ofgem already requires energy suppliers to do. The group suggested that suppliers should send a letter rather than a text or e-mail because this is an important communication and such a system would allow consumer groups such as Which? to get behind the letter and mount a co-ordinated campaign to generate interest. Such groups have historically been very good at doing that and many of the stakeholders in the group, including Which?, would be happy to undertake such a campaign. An e-mail would be acceptable only for those already paying by online tariff. We thought the letter should be sent to all customers because even those already paying by direct debit may not be on that supplier’s cheapest standard tariff.
If I may finish dealing with the two proposals, I will give my hon. Friend her chance again.
Secondly, it was agreed that the energy suppliers would introduce their idea of a generic signpost message on bills, again in time for this winter. Thirdly, it was agreed that the two proposals outlined—ERA’s generic signpost message and Which? and my more tailored message—would be market-tested to determine which was the more effective and how best to present such information to customers. Energy suppliers would abide by the conclusions, once researched, in time for the implementation by the winter of 2012-13. The amendments and new clause 19 reflect the group’s recommendations.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend’s proposals and discussions include a number of people who pay by direct debit. It noticeable—is it not?—that people can overpay by direct debit. They might be on the cheapest tariff, but the arrangement in place involves high regular payments. Energy companies never hesitate to contact us to let us know that we should pay more, but I have never been contacted to say that I am paying too much. We need to get a grip on that, because it affects people who do not necessarily understand the fantastically complex information that is sent out on bills, and there is a lack of fairness.
I should like to draw out a point about estimated bills. I met members of various energy companies last week, and they have no idea how many people receive estimated bills. Those who have received estimated bills for a year and are billed now for the outstanding amount will pay the new, inflated prices.
I apologise for coming in and out of the debate because, like many other hon. Members, I have had to deal with other issues. Does the hon. Gentleman envisage his amendment covering people who are off-grid who are not protected by Ofgem and have difficult suppliers? Indeed, their supplies can be cut off at short notice. We are dealing with people who are connected to both gas and electricity mains, but more than 4 million households are not on the grid. Those people can be highly vulnerable and have the greatest fuel poverty.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I hope that there will be no discrimination in how the information is presented. It is as simple as that. Bills go out to everyone in the land, and the information would be pertinent on those bills. Again, the research would ensure that we reach all sectors of our communities.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the clarity of bill point that he is making eloquently and well would not necessarily be of use without clarity of ownership? He will be aware that a multitude of companies supply heating oil, which we debated in Westminster Hall in January this year, but the market is dominated by one monopolistic company—DCC Energy—which is being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading. Does he agree that the proposal should include clarity of ownership, so that proper price comparisons can take place?
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Undertaking market research into the two proposals and getting energy suppliers to abide by the findings of the research in time for next winter would have the advantage of making it much easier for a customer to get a figure from their company, based on their actual usage, because the message would be tailored. That would make comparisons with other companies much easier. At the end of the day, all we can do in the House is legislate to try to help consumers as much as possible to gain the necessary information for them to make informed choices. If they have that information, direct comparisons with other companies could help competition and consumers generally.
To pursue the point made by Albert Owen, does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the real problem with the off-grid market is the fact that there are no differential tariffs, as there is a set price for oil and gas? There are no social tariffs as there are for gas and electricity, so does he agree that that must be tackled before his excellent proposal could take effect in that market?
The hon. Gentleman has a point, but his proposal goes only so far. My problem is that energy bills are far too complex. I want to set hon. Members’ minds at rest: I do not stay up at night studying my energy bills, despite what Ministers think, although I might create the impression that I spend my time doing nothing else. The essential information is often contained on one page, followed by five or six pages of bumpf which compares usage with neighbourhood usage, and even usage overseas and so on. It is a lot of nonsense. What we want is clear information to cut through the 300 existing tariffs, which can be confusing. We need greater clarity, and there is no better way of getting that than making sure that we have information on a bill that says in pounds, shillings and pence how much would be saved if that customer was on the company’s cheapest standard tariff, taking into account actual usage and payment method. If that information was clearly laid out in no more than four or five lines, we could cut to the quick very easily indeed.
Before I accepted a series of interventions—hon. Members were right to make them and I hope that I have answered their questions—I described the three proposals suggested by the billing stakeholder group: two for this winter, the letter and the generic message; and one for next year, which would be an obligation on suppliers, following research on which is the clearest message, to put that in place for winter 2012-13 . Ofgem supports the billing stakeholder group’s general direction of travel, but I am aware that it is about to publish detailed proposals, following consultation, as part of its retail market review. One measure that it is considering is increased prescription on suppliers’ communications with customers in bills and annual statements. Having discussed that with the Minister, I understand that he has asked Ofgem to publish its findings before Christmas. He and I have therefore agreed that we will wait to see what those findings are before the billing stakeholder group and the Minister consult on whether Ofgem’s recommendations go far enough. If not, the third recommendation, in subsection (c) of new clause 19 will be triggered.
I therefore seek assurances from the Minister that the recommendations from the billing stakeholder group, as reflected in the new clause, will be agreed by the Government, with the qualification that we await the findings of Ofgem’s proposals in December this year before deciding whether to trigger subsection (c). The Minister has kindly indicated in previous discussions, following my letter to him of
I should like to speak to amendments 24, 23 and 25, which deal with the registration of information with landlords, and amendment 47, which would bring forward the date on which the standard comes into force from 2018 to 2016.
I am pleased to make a contribution to this vital debate, and I thank my hon. Friend Luciana Berger for tabling the amendments on landlord registration, as they are important for constituencies such as Hyndburn. The problems that parts of the country such as mine have in trying to comply with any form of action must be appreciated.
During the summer recess, many hon. Members enjoyed the less than balmy summer statistics released on fuel poverty. They show that far too many of our constituents dread the coming of winter because it will mean living in a home that is cold and damp, and the daily choice between whether to turn on the heating or to go without food or other essentials presents itself. Official statistics show that, in 2009, 5.5 million households in the UK could not afford to heat their home to a reasonable level and lived in fuel poverty. My constituency has a worse than average level of fuel poverty, with 7,352 households—one in every five—living in fuel poverty. This summer also brought the dreadful news that the big energy companies are to push up their prices even further, which will increase those numbers. It will result in more misery for the people in my constituency. Citizens Advice handled 104,000 fuel debt inquiries last year.
The worst conditions are too often found in properties rented by landlords. The most recent English housing survey found that more than 40% of private rented homes were not of a decent standard compared with 27% of local authority housing. Some great work on conditions in the private rented sector is being done by charities such as Shelter and Crisis, but we must do more. Last week, tenants in privately rented homes came together to form the national private tenants organisation, a move that I warmly welcome. It certainly has my support. They deserve the attention of the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who seems unable to hear anything but the voices of the landlord lobby. Almost as soon as he stepped through the door of the Department for Communities and Local Government, he declared:
“With the vast majority of England’s 3 million private tenants happy with the service they receive, I am satisfied that the current system strikes the right balance between the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords.”
In my area there is a high demand for private rented accommodation, but many tenants who come to see me feel threatened by their landlord if they raise these issues because, regardless of the state of the property, there is always someone else willing to take it on.
I had intended to raise later the issue of retaliatory eviction and the fact that landlords put pressure on tenants. More specifically, the short answer to my hon. Friend is the Channel 4 programme “Landlords from Hell”, which was broadcast last month. In it a landlord openly boasted that he could act above the law. If tenants did not like what happened, he would take a baseball bat to them. He could manipulate their rents however he wanted, and if they did not like it, violence resulted. The tenants who were interviewed understood this and lived in fear. That is the worst case, but there are many cases where the law on retaliatory eviction is weak, and something needs to be done about that. My hon. Friend raises a good point, which I may return to later.
The Minister seems to be on the landlords’ side, which does not work for a constituency such as mine, and he is being complacent. Rather than landlords’ behaviour improving, it seems to be getting worse as a result of his inaction. In March, Shelter recently reported a 23% increase in the number of people seeking help for problems with private landlords in the past 12 months. Only this week, Shelter found that complaints to local authorities about private landlords have increased by a fifth in two years, with 86,000 made last year.
In Hyndburn, the stark reality is that we have a second-world Britain, with shocking housing conditions that would not have been found in the old East Germany. Private landlords condemn parents and young children to housing misery. As the Housing Alliance reported last week, the UK has some of the worst housing in western Europe, and constituencies such as mine are plagued by this housing crisis. It condemns people to worklessness, as wages cannot keep up with rising costs, and that will impact on the introduction of the Bill.
One measure that would help to tackle the conditions in the private rented sector is a national register of landlords. The Government have seen fit to drop the proposals made by the previous Government for such a register, and that is such a shame. The Bill represented a good opportunity to introduce a register. However, we can still achieve some good by ensuring that the energy performance certificate register records the tenure of the property, where it is rented and the name and address of the landlord. Amendment 23, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, would achieve that. I cannot see what possible objection there could be to that most minimal of measures. Some might say that it is the thin end of the wedge, or a “landlords register lite”. I wish it were, but it is not, because local authorities would be unable to access the information for other matters they have to deal with. However, it would help them to get accurate information to landlords about the green deal, the landlords’ energy efficiency tax break, their legal duties and other such advice.
Disrepair can take many forms, but in this debate we are obviously concerned with one of the most serious threats to the health of tenants: cold. The increased risk of death for the elderly resulting from cold homes is well established. We have recently seen new evidence in a report by Professor Sir Michael Marmot of University College London about the dreadful damage to the health of children and teenagers that can result from living in a cold home. Children are twice as likely to suffer from respiratory diseases, such as asthma, if they live in a cold home. The very worst insulated properties, those in band G of the energy efficiency rating, are more than four times as common in the private rented sector as they are in the social sector. There are 680,000 private rented properties in England with the worst energy efficiency ratings of F and G. More than 40% of those households live in fuel poverty.
Almost all Members of the House must be aware of, and grateful for, the coalition of 40 organisations that have campaigned during the passage of the Bill to raise our awareness of the problem of cold housing in the private rented sector and that have proposed a solution by championing the idea of a rising minimum standard of energy efficiency for rented homes by 2016, rather than 2018. Without wishing to overlook the contribution of any other organisations, I congratulate Friends of the Earth, Citizens Advice and the Association for the Conservation of Energy on the well-run campaigns that they have pursued.
The Government have responded to this campaign, which is strongly supported by the Opposition, by including legislation that will make it mandatory to improve F and G-rated homes from 2018. This is a step forward, but it is not nearly good enough. Improving F and G-rated homes could have considerable health, climate and consumer benefits, lift 150,000 households out of fuel poverty and save an average of £488 in the annual energy bills of the homes improved. All these benefits will be unacceptably delayed if the introduction of the minimum standards is pushed back to 2018. More than 180 MPs, including many Government Members, have called for the introduction of those standards in 2016. Seven years is an unnecessarily long time to wait, and 2018 is two years after the date by which the Government have a legal obligation to end fuel poverty. In addition, introducing the minimum standard in 2016, rather than 2018, would cost the Treasury nothing.
In Committee, the Minister was unable to give any clear explanation on why 2018 was chosen. He said:
“Ultimately, the date is a matter of judgment and balance. I do not think that we would pretend that there is anything perfect about 2018; there are arguments in favour of setting an earlier date, and I am sure that some would argue for further delay.”
The only reason offered was the proportion of tenancies that would have to be turned over by 2018. The Minister argued:
“Most tenancies, I am told, are 12 to 18 months, so by 2018, we expect that 80% to 90% of tenancies will have changed. .”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee,
He was unable to say why 80% or 90% of tenancy turnover was the right proportion, or what the turnover would be by 2016, two years earlier. However, Friends of the Earth has calculated that the number of private rented sector tenants who had resided in their current home for five years or less is 80.3% and that the number of people who have resided in their current home for 10 years or less is 89.8%. So when the Minister argues for a delay until 2018 because there is likely to be an 80% to 90% turnover by then, he is wrong; there may in fact be an 80% to 90% turnover earlier than that—it could be expected to occur by 2016.
The independent Committee on Climate Change, in its recent third progress report to Parliament, specifically called for earlier introduction of regulation for the private rented sector, stating that
“there is no reason to delay implementation of this aspect of the proposals.”
It would be a tragedy if the Government’s response to the news that 5.5 million households—many in the private rented sector—are in fuel poverty was to delay a vital measure that would tackle fuel poverty and cut energy bills.
I shall speak to amendments 2 to 6 and 8, in my name and those of right hon. and hon. colleagues on both sides of the House, on energy efficiency in the private rented sector.
I join other Members in congratulating the Department on going a long way to tackle the problem in the private rented sector by agreeing to introduce a minimum efficiency standard and by declaring that it is simply unacceptable to rent out dangerously cold and draughty homes. The Department has gone far further than many expected, and the minimum standard is a major achievement that goes some way to meeting the Government’s pledge to be the greenest Government ever.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Tessa Munt for her work in Committee, to the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Gregory Barker and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for genuinely engaging with the coalition of organisations that support the introduction of a minimum standard.
My amendments are backed by a coalition of some 40 organisations, and I join Graham Jones in thanking Friends of the Earth, the Association for the Conservation of Energy and Citizens Advice for all their work during the passage of the Bill and for supporting my amendments.
The Government have taken a giant leap forward by agreeing to introduce a minimum standard, and we should not underestimate how far the Department has brought us, but my amendments seek simply to take a further, much smaller step forward.
The most important of my amendments is amendment 6, which would bring forward the date by which landlords have to bring up their property to a minimum standard. So far, 181 MPs from nine different political parties on both sides of the House have signed early-day motion 653, which I tabled in July last year, so there is clearly cross-party support for bringing in the minimum standard by 2016.
The Government have given no good reason why the deadline must be 2018 and not sooner, but there are plenty of good reasons for introducing it sooner. The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 requires the Government to do all that is reasonably practicable to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, and there must be very compelling reasons not to meet that obligation. According to the most recent figures, 5.5 million households are in fuel poverty, and housing makes up 27% of the
UK’s carbon emissions—a strong argument for it playing a central role in the Government’s plan to meet their carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act 2008.
Owing to the lack of available social housing in recent years and the failure of successive Governments to prioritise and tackle the lack of affordable rented property, there has been an increasing reliance on the private rented sector to provide homes. Although there are many good landlords, there are still a number who let substandard properties, and in my constituency some private rented accommodation is among the worst and least energy efficient property available.
The Department’s own impact assessment estimates that 42% of households in F and G-rated properties in the private rented sector are in fuel poverty, and Friends of the Earth-commissioned research by Consumer Focus estimates that 150,000 households would be lifted out of fuel poverty simply by bringing F and G-rated properties up to a minimum E standard, saving an average of £488 on the annual energy bill of the improved homes. It is also estimated that that would save 1.87 million tonnes of CO2 annually and £145 million currently spent by the NHS on treating illnesses caused by cold rented homes. Those are all good reasons to bring forward the date to 2016.
Bringing forward the deadline to 2016 would still give landlords nearly four years to comply with the minimum standards. Ministers have argued that waiting until 2018 means that the majority of private tenancies—getting on for 90%—will have changed hands, which will give landlords the chance to upgrade and retrofit the properties before a new tenant moves in. That is a reasonable argument, as it creates the minimum disruption for the minimum number of tenants and will cover the vast majority of tenants in longer-term lets. However, the vast majority of private tenancies—between 80% and 90%—will also have changed hands by 2016, and so bringing forward the deadline would cause very little, if any, additional disruption for tenants.
The Bill should be amended so that we have a 2016 deadline after which all private rented sector homes must, by law, be at least E-rated for energy efficiency. The 2016 date clearly meets the Government’s stated criteria of being
“a date by which properties with long-term tenancies will have gone through a tenancy cycle”.
“There is no reason to delay implementation of the proposals. The regulation would only apply to F and G-rated properties and improvements would be relatively low cost in most cases.”
Research suggests that the vast majority of these properties could be improved to meet the minimum standard for less than £3,500, and that for 37% of them it would cost less than £900 to make the necessary improvements.
Today’s letter from the Minister to Friends of the Earth made it clear that the Government are not going to concede any ground on the date and suggested that it was a matter for Parliament. Well, I am making it a matter for Parliament today. I would have been prepared to withdraw the amendment if I had received a commitment to a public consultation on changing the deadline, but because there has been no such commitment I feel that it is necessary to seek to put it to the vote.
I have tabled amendments 2, 3 and 5 because clause 42 does not mention the role of letting agents and those marketing rented properties. Ministers say that it is “implicit” that the minimum standard will have an impact on not only landlords but anyone acting as their agent, including letting agents and estate agents. The Department has subsequently stated that the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 will prevent landlords and letting agents from marketing F and G-rated properties. I hope that the Minister can give a clear indication of how the regulations will do that, and then I will be happy to withdraw the amendments.
I welcome the provision in clause 45 that means that landlords cannot refuse consent for reasonable requests for energy efficiency measures. Some tenants already worry about asking for reasonable repairs because of the potential threat of retaliatory eviction, so how many will exercise that right if they face a strong chance of being chucked out of their homes? The National Private Tenants Network has clear evidence that retaliatory action is occurring, including landlords seeking possession of a property under the Housing Act 1988. The Housing Minister has said that it is vital that tenants can ask for repairs without fear of eviction, and I welcome that comment. In Committee, Ministers acknowledged those concerns and set up a stakeholder group on retaliatory eviction. That is a step in the right direction because it is vital that tenants have legal protection against such retaliation.
Amendment 8 seeks to give the Secretary of State the power to include in the regulations protection for tenants by limiting the circumstances under which a section 21 notice for eviction of a tenant can be served once a request has been made by the tenant for relevant energy efficiency measures. I would be grateful if the Minister updated the House on what progress has been made by the stakeholder group in ensuring that tenants are protected against eviction.
Finally, amendment 4 seeks to ensure that improvements that are carried out on a property that falls below the E rating make it reach a minimum E rating. It is not clear from clause 42 that it will be mandatory for improvements to bring it up to band E—the minimum standard the Government want to see. Subsections (2) and (3) suggest that landlords will have to make “relevant energy efficiency improvements”. The clause states that those improvements can be financed by the green deal, the energy company obligation or other financial arrangements. Those improvements might bring the property up to band E, but they might not. For some band F and G properties, landlords will rely on using ECO, a fixed pot of money that will not pay for all improvements or other sources of funding. In such cases, landlords will not know what is expected of them. That will not only create the danger that private rented sector tenants might not benefit in full from the improvements the Government want to see; it will also create uncertainty for landlords.
Once the principle of regulation has been accepted—as it has been by introducing a minimum standard—it is in the interests of landlords for that regulation to be clear and straightforward to comply with. The ambiguity will make it more difficult for local authorities to undertake their enforcement role. They will somehow have to distinguish between F and G rated properties that are legal because they have been improved and those that are illegal because there have been no improvements. We need to mend the legislation to make it crystal clear to anybody what the minimum standard is, and amendment 4 seeks to do that.
I will address my remarks to amendments 9 to 12, which I tabled. I will also put those amendments in the context of the other amendments in the group headed “Energy efficiency”.
I will question to what extent the Bill is attached to anything by which it can be measured. What might we mean by the success of the green deal, the energy company obligation or the energy efficiency aspirations of the Bill? As things stand, it is difficult to attach the good ideas, aspirations and programmes in the Bill to any sort of measure. Most importantly, it is difficult to attach them to one of the key measures we currently have, which is the progress we are making in reducing our carbon emissions under the Climate Change Act 2008. That Act asked for certain actions to be undertaken by the Committee on Climate Change. In its progress reports and recommendations on meeting our carbon budgets, the Committee has increasingly involved itself in specific measures that, among other things, are the domain of the Bill, such as targets for the removal of problems relating to non-cavity wall homes through external and internal insulation. Such measures contribute to greater energy efficiency and, as a result, to reducing carbon emissions.
My amendments would do something very simple: they would require the Department to assess the cost-benefit relationship between undertaking and investing in energy efficiency measures and undertaking investment in and pursuing energy generation. It will be a good for policy direction if we know the costs and benefits before mounting programmes that could have a substantial impact on either. The fact is that we do not know and no one has done that kind of work within or outside the Department, yet a substantial raft of policies have been launched on that non-understanding, including a number of policies in the Bill. Frankly, that is not a rational way to make policy, and the Department’s chief scientist, Dr David MacKay, very much agrees. He said recently:
“I agree that this is a crucial comparison to make, and I would love to see us develop a rational, quantitative approach that incentivises energy saving in the same way that, say, renewables are incentivised.”
Amendments 9, 10, 11 and 12 would require the Minister to assess that and report to the House to inform policy making.
Essentially, my proposals are in the same vein as several that we have debated this afternoon. New clauses 1 and 2 would explicitly link the aims of the Bill to the progress made on reducing carbon emissions and to reports from the Committee on Climate Change. The Department would have to provide a clear strategy in its plan for delivery and ensure that the strategy is based clearly on a link with climate change strategy. Similarly, in respect of putting local authorities at the heart of local carbon reduction, a requirement would be placed on the Committee on Climate Change to advise on local area carbon emissions, so that they too are linked.
We need to be able to relate the ambition—the overwhelming imperative—to reduce energy use in the residential and small business sector to what we need to achieve by certain dates in terms of improving the energy efficiency of property throughout the UK. That is one of the key areas on which the Bill remains silent. After the end of Warm Front, the carbon emissions reduction targets, the community energy savings programme and various other programmes, the green deal and the energy company obligation are the only shows in town as far as making progress on energy efficiency in homes is concerned.
The Bill sets out a number of ways in which the green deal and the ECO can move forward, but it does not set out any means by which to assess their success or appropriateness. That is significant in terms of the proposals in the Bill for the development of the ECO. We are asked to accept that an ECO of perhaps £1 billion a year will get close to achieving the loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, and solid wall insulation tasks that face the country over the next period, which relate to the Committee on Climate Change recommendations. Indeed, my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner described a number of the scenarios that have been set out and said what we ought to be achieving for the third progress report of the Committee on Climate Change. What is the Government’s ambition within the likely terms of the Bill? Will the finance be available to get us anywhere near that ambition?
The figures suggest that by the early 2020s, using a combination of green deal, CERT extension and the ECO, we are likely to be almost 5 million properties short on loft insulation, 4.5 million short on cavity-wall insulation and 200,000 short on solid-wall insulation. Those figures assume the Government’s low-scenario ambition, and although they decrease if we adopt their high-scenario intention, they still fall substantially short not only of the imperative and ambition, but of the likely finance.
The ambition for the ECO appears to be about £1 billion to £2 billion per year, yet clear figures are available on the cap within which that ECO obligation will fall. The £11.8 billion cap for the current spending period was set by the Treasury at the last Budget and includes the renewables obligation, feed-in tariff and warm home discount. According to the Treasury, the ECO is likely to fall within the cap, which means either removing from the cap some of the areas currently funded up to 2015, or increasing the cap to accommodate the ECO. I believe that the Department thought that it had agreed the latter verbally with the Treasury, but it appears that that hope has been dashed—certainly it seems less certain than the Department thought it was a little while ago.
We do not know how much funding there will be for the ECO over the next period. We do not know whether the Treasury will place it inside or outside the original cap or inside a larger cap. Significantly, some claimed that the Treasury announced the cap following the referral of the measures in it to the Office for National Statistics and that, because those levies and arrangements, which are similar to the ECO, were declared to be imputed tax-and-spend devices, the ONS considered them to be so. That is not so, however. Only one of those three devices went to the ONS. The Treasury effectively declared that the other two were the sorts of things that the ONS could decide were imputed tax-and-spend devices and so put them within the cap.
That does not augur well for the ECO being taken seriously by the Treasury as a necessary and substantial measure for tackling problems with solid-wall insulation and fuel poverty, where people need assistance outside the terms of the green deal owing to their individual circumstances. It is also a bad augury because it appears that the Treasury can declare by fiat what those things should be and, therefore, how they should be limited. The Minister should bite the House’s hand off to incorporate these amendments into the Bill, but I suspect that he will not.
The amendments relate to targets, to the progress that we need to make on climate change, and to the real cost to the country of tackling the problems of solid-wall insulation and helping people in fuel poverty and those otherwise unable to access the green deal. The Minister would then be able to say to the Treasury, “It is not good enough to impose a cap because of the requirements of the Bill. Even if there is a cap on these arrangements, other measures will be needed that may contribute towards the success of such targets in the fight to make energy efficiency a much more central part of our approach to the fabric of our property and its energy efficiency.”
New clause 7 tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion sets out, among other things, a number of areas in which one might look for additional funding to augment the energy company obligation in order to reach those targets. We would be able to argue for that if the new clauses and amendments were accepted, strengthening the approach to the overall energy efficiency target that we all know we have to reach.
It would be a good idea for the Government to move towards ECO-mortgages for homes with solid-wall insulation, with the interest perhaps paid by ECO capital under a new golden rule that the net effect must be less than the payments. That would greatly expand the effect that ECO would have, over and above the level to which it seems to be limited at present.
Unless the Bill contains measures that enable us to see where we are going, what we need to do, and how that relates to the wider issues tackled by, among others, the Committee on Climate Change, I fear that in a few years people will say that the Bill was a good try but it did not get very far, despite the good intentions. Adding backbone to the Bill by making clear what it should achieve and why would make it central to our attempts to tackle climate change, energy efficiency in homes, and our obligation to ensure the best energy efficiency arrangements for the homes of those currently in fuel poverty, to proof them as far as possible against future fuel poverty.
I associate myself with the comments made in support of the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead).
I shall say a few words in support of my new clause 7, which I believe would go to the heart of whether the green deal will succeed or not. As the Minister knows, I strongly favour a properly publicly funded, street-by-street, area-based approach to domestic energy efficiency programmes. That would be far more effective than the market-based green deal approach that the Government are pursuing, not least because a market-based approach will not work for those on low incomes living in fuel poverty. I welcome the fact that the Government have acknowledged that the green deal finance mechanism is not appropriate for those groups—essentially low-income and vulnerable households which have under-heated their homes in the past.
It is crucial to recognise that the golden rule is much less likely to work for households, as they are much more likely to use the money notionally saved from their fuel bills to increase their thermal comfort—in other words, to take the benefits of energy efficiency improvements in increased warmth rather than in increased savings. That is why the energy company obligation is so important, yet under the Government’s current proposals, I am concerned that the obligation is being seriously under-resourced.
The purpose of new clause 7 is to try to identify additional support to allow us to create a significantly larger ECO pot of resources and to supplement it with some other sources of revenue. In arguing for more resources, I have tried to be helpful by suggesting possible sources of funding that could come on stream in the years to come—namely, receipts from auctions under the EU emissions trading system, the carbon floor price, a tax on gas and electricity companies, or, if necessary, direct taxation. Let me say a few words about why those resources are so desperately needed.
As other hon. Members have said, the scourge of fuel poverty is getting worse, not better. The latest Government statistics, from 2009-10, show 5.5 million UK households in fuel poverty, or 21% of the total. Retail energy prices have continued to rise since the fuel poverty figures were updated, with five of the six main energy suppliers recently announcing higher charges for gas and electricity, which will inevitably increase the scale of fuel poverty. As a result, National Energy Action estimates that we are currently closer to having 6.5 million households across the UK living in fuel poverty. However, the stark truth is that existing programmes to address fuel poverty through energy efficiency are not equal even to current demand.
If there is to be any prospect of meeting our social and environmental objectives, and if the 2016 target to eradicate fuel poverty in England in particular is to be met, the Government must introduce much more ambitious policies to support and protect low-income and vulnerable groups. That means that the ECO must be much better funded and supplemented with other resources if it is to provide the necessary support for those who are fuel-poor and living in vulnerable households and for the hard-to-treat properties that need it most.
If the hon. Gentleman holds on for just a moment, I will come to those very figures. Indeed, the question that I wanted to ask the Minister was whether he could outline the latest thinking on the level of funding for the ECO pot. The figure of £1 billion has been cited in the past, but a recent all-party report recommended that the annual contribution through the ECO should be no less than £2.5 billion, focused exclusively on low-income and vulnerable households. Other reports have suggested that the contribution should be as much as £4 billion a year.
Let us not forget that the introduction of the ECO will coincide with the end of all Exchequer funding for domestic energy efficiency programmes—the first time in three decades—when Warm Front is phased out. As we have discussed, the ECO will be funded through a levy on all customers’ fuel bills, regardless of households’ financial circumstances. That is inherently regressive and can result in perverse outcomes. I mentioned earlier that if we are not careful, we could push more people into fuel poverty by levying a fee on all bills—rather than by adopting a taxpayer-funded approach—than we take out of fuel poverty. It is simply not acceptable for low-income and vulnerable households effectively to subsidise those who just happen to live in hard-to-treat homes, but who are perfectly able to pay to heat them properly. The dual function of the ECO pot is therefore misguided and risks creating cross-subsidies from the poorest to the better-off.
In their paper “Extra help where it is needed: a new Energy Company Obligation”, published in May, the Government provide further information about the ECO, and in doing so, partially recognise the limitations and regressive nature of the policy, as well as acknowledging concerns about targeting and equity. That document says:
“As the delivery costs of ECO are assumed to be recovered by the energy companies through increases in consumer bills and therefore spread across all households, it is important for the credibility of the scheme to ensure that all households have fair access to the benefits, safeguarding distributional equity. In addition to providing for affordable warmth, this includes considering how the benefits of support for solid wall insulation can be delivered equitably. We are looking into learning the lessons from CERT”.
Those are the challenges that need to be overcome. The case that I want to make—the same case as that made by the Committee on Climate Change—is that the funding available from the ECO should be used exclusively for low-income and vulnerable households, including those in hard-to-treat homes. Essentially, what we should not do is use ECO funds for those in hard-to-treat homes who can afford to pay for them.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful case, with which I agree, in criticising the market-based approach to the alleviation of fuel poverty. Is she also concerned about the figures that appeared on the front page of The Daily Telegraph last week, which suggested that the cost of the renewables obligation and the feed-in tariff could, depending on the price of carbon-based fuels, be as much as £300 per household? That would negate most of the benefits of the Bill.
I did not see that piece in The Daily Telegraph, but I would query some of the assumptions on which such a calculation was based in relation to the levels that fuel bills might reach—because fossil fuels are getting so expensive—without some measure of investment in alternative fuels. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, however, that it would be better not to put more and more obligations that have to be paid for on to people’s fuel bills. That is a regressive thing to do, and any such measures should be funded either through direct taxation or through mechanisms such as the emissions trading scheme’s revenues.
The Committee on Climate Change has highlighted its concerns about the dual direction of the ECO funds. It states clearly that they should be used to prioritise solid-wall insulation in the 1.9 million fuel-poor households that live in solid-wall properties. We should combine the two functions of the ECO: yes, it should be used for low-income and vulnerable families, but it should also be used for low-income and vulnerable families in hard-to-heat homes.
I am listening closely to the hon. Lady, and I admit that the Government have not yet come forward with our proposal on the ECO. She seems quite clear about what it should involve, but I did not pick up the actual figure that she thinks would be right for it. Will she tell us what she thinks that figure should be, so that we can work out whether the sources of revenue would be sufficient to fund it?
I thank the Minister for his intervention, and I am pleased to see his impatience for me to get to the crunchy bits involving the figures, which I will now do. The figures that I was quoting were from an all-party group chaired by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test that involved myself and a few others. The group believed that it would be necessary to have a minimum of £2.5 billion in the ECO pot specifically for low-income and vulnerable households involved; some members of the group felt that it should be £4 billion. We were therefore looking at between £2.5 billion and £4 billion, but that was intended not for solid-wall insulation in the able-to-pay sector; it was focused solely on low-income and vulnerable households.
We considered where we might be able to find such sums of money, including down the back of the sofa and so forth. Based on the Treasury’s own budgetary projections, the EU emissions trading scheme and the carbon floor price will bring in a combined revenue of £2.7 billion in the first year of the green deal’s operation, 2013-14, rising to £3.6 billion by 2015-16. If we were to choose to hypothecate those two revenue streams alone, they could be used to supplement the revenues of the ECO. That is exactly what many groups and individuals have recommended. A 2008 European Parliament directive recommended that at least 50% of revenues from EU ETS auctions of allowances should be devoted to environmental protections, including more efficient heating and improved insulation. In contrast to the UK, countries such as Germany, Hungary and Poland are doing exactly that.
Ofgem provided constructive support in its report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2008, stating:
“In view of these pressures on prices the regulator has identified a windfall to the electricity industry arising from the free allocation of tradeable emission permits.”
That windfall still exists. The report continues:
“This could be used to fund aid for fuel-poor households: those who spend more than 10 per cent of their income on energy.”
The European Parliament and Ofgem are thus both in favour of such a move.
If money were no object, I would love to see hard-to-treat homes subsidised through the ECO, even for those who are able to pay. We are living in financially constrained times, however, and I am therefore suggesting that we focus all the money in the ECO, which should be increased, on low-income and vulnerable households, of which a subset would be those low-income and vulnerable households in properties that are hard to heat and therefore need solid-wall insulation.
If the hon. Lady is not prepared to subsidise solid-wall insulation, does she accept that many able-to-pay customers will baulk at the substantial cost of such insulation, so there is a very real risk—it is almost certain—that we would be unable to hit our CO2 reduction targets? All the analysis of this problem that has come from a climate change or environmental perspective is absolutely clear that we will need to subsidise these currently expensive measures.
I thank the Minister for his intervention. I hope he will allow me to explain my proposal. It would mean that for at least the first three years the ECO would be used for the low-income and vulnerable families that live in hard-to-heat homes. As about 40% of the low-income and vulnerable households do live in such homes, I am confident that if the revenues from the ECO were focused on that group of people, we would have a much greater uptake of solid-wall insulation and the price would come down far more quickly. If we were to use the bulk of the ECO to go house to house or street by street to some of the poorest, most vulnerable people, I believe it would have a far better environmental impact than sitting back and allowing market forces to see who happens to ring up the advice line to say, “By the way, I’m living in poverty in a hard-to-treat home, so could I have some support from the ECO?” What I am suggesting would be better for dealing with fuel poverty and also better for the environment—the figures suggesting that do stack up.
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I think he is asking me whether, over those three years, I envisage a pot of money of between £2.5 billion and £4 billion, replenished on an annual basis, being used only for these low-income and vulnerable households. If that was the question, the answer is yes.
For how much longer, then, will it go on for the groups that your all-party parliamentary group spoke up for? Is a 10-year programme envisaged for that level of investment? Do you have a longer time scale in mind?
Order. Before the hon. Lady answers, let me say that the hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that he should address the Chair, that I am “you”, and he should not therefore ask me what my views are. The hon. Lady should be referred to as either his hon. Friend or the hon. Member.
Thank you. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the report of the all-party parliamentary group, which was co-chaired by myself and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, as it contains all the detail in it. Off the top of my head, I cannot remember the overall number of years, but my essential point is that both for attacking fuel poverty and for environmental rigour, it makes more sense to target all the ECO resources for at least the first three years on low-income, vulnerable households, including those living in solid-wall and hard-to-heat properties, rather than trying to separate out the ECO into hard-to-treat homes that might belong to able-to- pay groups. A focus for at least three years solely on low-income and vulnerable households would have stronger fuel poverty and environmental outcomes.
Let us not forget that the Government are still bound by their statutory commitments to the eradication of fuel poverty in England by 2016. If that objective is to be met, we need significant additional resources for programmes that will improve heating and insulation standards in dwellings occupied by those households. An impoverished Exchequer, a coalition Government who are averse to high taxation and a policy of funding a range of programmes through levies on consumer bills can only exacerbate the appalling scale of fuel poverty. I think we need a major investment in a national programme to improve domestic energy efficiency, giving priority, as I say, to those in greatest need.
Does the hon. Lady accept that the Government are taking other measures? For example, in the recently published public health paper, the eradication of fuel poverty is highlighted as a public health outcome for the very first time. If health and wellbeing boards are established, they will play a critical role, and they will have additional funds to target on this issue. There is already very good partnership working in such counties as Cornwall—between Community Energy Plus and the local authority, for example—and it is targeting precisely the households that the hon. Lady mentions. That is another way of tackling fuel poverty.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I welcome the fact that health and wellbeing boards are now interested in fuel poverty, although whether that will bring significant new resources into play is another question. I hope that the hon. Lady is right, but I am not convinced that she is, or at least that there will be enough resources without hypothecation of some of the revenue sources from emissions trading and so forth.
New clause 18 would allow fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes to be better targeted at those in greatest need through the sharing of data between the Government and energy companies, with all due consideration for privacy and data protection issues. I believe that such improved targeting would also reduce wasteful administration costs, which have been estimated at about £120 per household. Money spent on trying to identify low-income and vulnerable consumers would be much better spent on helping them out of poverty.
I strongly support amendments 2 to 5, tabled by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington and signed by me. I had tabled similar amendments to improve clause 42, but withdrew them to support those tabled by the hon. Gentleman.
It is no exaggeration to say that the citizens of Northumberland are often faced with a straight choice between heating and eating. I am lucky enough to represent 1,150 square miles of south and west Northumberland, and while in the rest of the country 6 million people—one in 10—may suffer from fuel poverty, it is well accepted in my constituency that the position is far worse there. The north-east has the second highest level of fuel poverty in the country, and we take the issue very seriously.
I support what the Government are doing in the Bill and with the green deal. It is a wonderful step forward. Listening to Luciana Berger, one might have believed that nothing had happened since the present Government came to office, that everything had been rosy in the preceding 13 years, and that fuel poverty magically mushroomed out of nowhere in May 2010.
I want to discuss energy efficiency and fuel poverty in the context of new clause 19, which was presented very impressively by my hon. Friend Mr Baron. My constituency is particularly affected in the context of oil and liquefied petroleum gas, although we are obviously affected by other energy issues. I applaud all the efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes through the green deal, but I am concerned about, in particular, the variances in the price of heating oil and LPG. We discussed the issue during an important debate in Westminster Hall in January to which a number of Members, including Albert Owen, made impressive contributions. I hope that that debate is a source of ongoing development in relation not just to the Bill and the green deal, but to other proposals made by the Government.
Fuel poverty is not an abstract issue. It is talked of as though it affects other people, but account should be taken of the sheer increase in fuel prices. The price of heating oil in Northumberland, for instance, rose from approximately 41p to 71p in the three months between September and December last year. That is a massive price rise. Everyone accepts that prices are affected by consumption and by oil and gas prices generally, but there is undoubtedly an element of profiteering, and naked monopolies and cartels have been created by individual companies. We have campaigned strongly on the issue.
It is well known that I am no fan of the company known as DCC Energy. I am pleased to say that it is being subjected to an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading, which was launched on
—whose campaign I applaud and endorse—it would not be known that all but four of those companies are owned by DCC Energy. Long-standing customers of, for instance, a heating oil company that had been bought-out might be told, “We’re the independent and long-established company that you’ve always purchased from,” when that was manifestly not the case. That company is now clearly controlled by a parent company.
That problem also arises in many other parts of the country, particularly in Scotland. The traditional response of Governments when asked to address the issue of tariffs was that there were too many suppliers, but it is clear that we are now moving towards a situation in which this market is controlled by just a few companies, as in the energy market which is dominated by the big six. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is time that the Government looked at an equivalent to social tariffs in this area?
I would certainly welcome hearing what the Minister has to say on that. The point, however, is that there is regulation of the big six energy companies, but there is no regulation of the heating oil companies and others. I accept that we must wait until we know the results of the Office of Fair Trading investigation, however. After that, we might want to come back to the House and argue that changes must be made.
My hon. Friend is giving a comprehensive account of a problem that we in the west country also face, as there are very high levels of fuel poverty, which is related to the fact that so many people are off the gas grid, and they rely on heating oil and LPG, just as people do in my hon. Friend’s Northumberland constituency and in Scotland. As he says, we must wait for the publication of the OFT’s full findings at the end of the month, but does he agree that its initial findings were welcome in that at least there will now be clarity in respect of websites offering people advice on where to purchase their heating oil? Thanks to the intervention of Members—and especially the Minister, who asked the OFT to look into oil supply as part of the off-grid energy review—this winter, when prices are rising and people are increasingly concerned, at least accurate and fair information will be available on where to purchase heating oil.
I agree with all those points and applaud the efforts of the Government, and especially the Minister, in pursuing the point about websites. One such site, BoilerJuice, is supposedly a price comparison site yet is owned by one company—DCC, unsurprisingly —and it markets only the products it owns. That is manifestly unfair and wrong; it is not good for either the consumer or our constituents in general. I endorse the OFT response, and it is to that company’s great shame that it behaves in that way. I welcome the actions of the Minister, the OFT and especially The Sunday Times, which has done much to help tackle what is, frankly, a scandal.
The message must go out that this issue is about not only what the Government can do through the Bill and the guidance they issue, but about the fact that our constituents must ask questions and shop around as well. They will not be able to do that unless they know who owns the business that is supplying them with fuel or heating oil. If they do not have such information, they will be subject to what amounts to a monopolistic cartel. That is manifestly wrong. We cannot do all the work, however; people must address this issue themselves as well. We have to sell that message to them.
My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Does he agree that there are some very good initiatives in which communities are gathering together to form co-operatives? In villages, people join together, often enabled by voluntary organisations such as Community Energy Plus in Cornwall, to get a better deal for customers in their villages.
I totally endorse that. In certain areas in Northumberland, such as in the communities of Tarset and Allendale, similar approaches are being pursued by local communities’ grouping together and purchasing from a local supplier. In my area, we thought we had 21 different companies but in fact we have one company masquerading as 17 providers and four independents. Fortunately, the four independents have been identified and should be supported; indeed, I assure hon. Members that they will be supported because of the way they are trying to do business and support the local economy and are not an Irish-based provider in a cartel.
Following on from the community projects we have been talking about, I endorse the work of organisations that have addressed this issue and worked to improve the position for the individual consumer and constituent. To their great credit, Age UK and the National Farmers Union have done tremendous work to address the matter. It is worth noting that of the 10 things most likely to be stolen in thefts and burglaries of people’s houses, the sixth-highest is fuel—in Northumberland, the figure is probably even higher. The Countryside Alliance should also be complimented because the rural action that it has proposed is massively successful; it is identifying ways in which the community can be assisted, and not just in farming communities and market towns. In my constituency there is no question but that fuel poverty is an issue in residential parts of places such as Prudhoe, Haltwhistle and west Wylam. Those are not areas of farmland and sheep—they are nothing other than normal houses where people are struggling to stay above the fuel poverty line.
Today, I met representatives of the Young Foundation, which supports The U—a citizens’ university-based organisation in Hexham that is working for specific energy efficiency projects. Those projects are just the sort of thing that will benefit from the green deal in future. They, along with the Green Alliance and several Members of Parliament, are working together to try to provide flagship examples and leadership for the type of constituency and community that is putting green policies at the heart of the community. There is great scope for a community-based way forward to try to strengthen our ability to address energy efficiency.
I support the Bill, but I want to touch briefly on new clause 19, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay. It will be no surprise to hon. Members who have listened to my contributions to hear that I should like to see clarity of provider ownership on bills. At the moment, individual consumers are being misled by their failure to understand which parent company owns particular providers. I accept and endorse my hon. Friend’s comments that new clause 19 is a way forward. It addresses the additional information that should be supplied by energy suppliers on bills and I hope that the Government will support it. It is supported by Which?—an organisation that self-evidently works on behalf of individual constituents and consumers—and a number of other organisations that are greatly to be credited. In my humble submission, anything that ensures that a generic signposting message is displayed prominently on all customers’ energy bills, detailing how they might reduce those bills, should go ahead. We should ensure that such messages are on bills. Indeed, I go further in saying that it would be of great benefit if something were supplied on that issue this year, although I accept that it might be difficult to do that by
I should like to have seen a further subsection added to new clause 19—it is to my detriment that I failed to table an amendment to it—that would have touched on clarity of ownership, but perhaps we can return to that after the OFT has produced its report, when we know what it says about the role of DCC Energy.
I support the Bill and the green deal. The constituency that I represent and the whole of Northumberland is well behind the green deal and the objectives that it seeks to achieve.
It is a pleasure to follow Guy Opperman. I welcome him back to the House. He is in good campaigning mode on fuel poverty and off-grid fuels in peripheral areas of the United Kingdom. I support new clause 1 and the other Opposition new clauses and amendments, but I shall limit my remarks to new clause 19, tabled by Mr Baron. He highlighted in his opening remarks how important energy issues are to households and how the price hike of recent months and the trend that is forming are hurting every household in the United Kingdom. That is something that we need to address.
Good measures have been taken by previous Governments and, indeed, this Government with social tariffs, but the market simply does not work for many people. The price hikes are unsustainable, hurting and causing fuel poverty across the country. I welcome new clause 19 when it talks about clarity and simplifying bills, so that people have ready information.
I am glad that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Gregory Barker is still on the Front Bench. He is on record as saying that he was so confused by the information available when he tried to switch supplier that he just gave up. I am in the same league as him. Energy companies deliberately give so much information to their potential consumers and customers that they do not bother.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change. We have held a number of inquiries and a mini-inquiry when price rises were announced just before the recess. We took evidence from three of the big six companies. There has been a review and there will be further reviews of energy pricing and tariffs and how the companies present their bills. It was interesting that 40% of those who decide to switch supplier are no better off when they do so, and many of them do so under duress; they switch just to get rid of cold-callers. So it is important that we have such a clause as well as other legislation and regulations that allow individuals to have clear and concise bills, so that they can make clear and concise choices and, we hope, reduce their energy prices, thereby reducing fuel poverty.
We will extend the retail market inquiry being undertaken by the Department of Energy and Climate Change to find out more from experts, including consumer groups, which have been helpful. I join hon. Members in putting on record my appreciation of the work done by consumer groups, such as Which?, Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice, in helping to frame proper protection guidelines for energy consumers.
The confusion needs to be addressed, and new clause 19 would go some way to doing so. When I intervened on the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay to ask whether he would expect the measure to be extended to people off-grid and not on the mains, he said that he would. Of course, such an extension would be difficult because, as has been said in the previous contribution, the off-grid is not a regulated market. I am not sure—I am willing to take an intervention—how he envisages that independent suppliers would do what would be required of the big six, with dual tariffs and so on. Obviously, people without gas supplies cannot get the dual tariffs or other reductions that many people have.
I think I said that subsection (c) of new clause 19 calls for research to choose the best message and consider how to communicate it. I envisage that we could at the very least consider that issue, without making any promises, when subsection (c) was triggered.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he made his intervention. However, I think that that would be difficult. For some time, I have suggested—the Bill may not be exactly the right place to deal with this, but the electricity market reform White Paper is looking at it—that the regulator should look after people who are off-grid so that they have the same protection and rights as others. As has been said on numerous occasions, people in hard-to-reach areas on the periphery have the greatest need and are in the greatest fuel poverty. They are often off the mains, so they need equal if not better protection than people with access to mains gas and electricity.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. I, too, have called for those changes. Earlier, I was trying to make the point that new clause 19 will not help those people at all because there are no tariffs in that market: there is a set price for the oil that they buy. One of my constituents told me that last winter the supplier would not quote them a price. They had to buy the oil, paying the price set on the day of delivery, as prices were volatile. Unlike gas and electricity consumers, they do not receive a bill so that they can look at those things; they are given a price, and so much oil is delivered.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, which is why those people need greater protection. The Office of Fair Trading is undertaking a review, and I hope that, rather than just refer something to the Competition Commission, it will come up with proposals and take action. I hope—and I know that the Minister is listening, because this is a serious issue—that people who are off-grid receive better protection in future. I shall certainly work with the Government—and I know that the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change will do so, too—and help them to try to reach those people.
The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the contracts and the sums that individuals have to pay. The hon. Member for Hexham touched on that. I have received anecdotal evidence from my constituents that, during the big freeze in December last year, an individual in an isolated hamlet applied to have their tank filled up. They were told that they could have only half the amount that they usually received, and they were charged 50p a litre. Six weeks later, the company came to replenish the tank, and charged them 70p a litre. Members up and down the country will be familiar with such examples. Those people are suffering real hardship and are in fuel poverty, which is why we should all work together to ensure that people who are off-grid receive the proper protection afforded to those on the gas and electricity mains.
The new clause is a good measure, and we are moving towards clearer bills that include such information: informed people can make informed choices, as I have said. We need that information, and the choice of suppliers should extend beyond the big six. That has been mentioned, and the Government and Ofgem are looking at it. The proposal has cross-party support, because the monopoly enjoyed by the six companies that generate 80% of electricity and gas yet supply 99% of consumers does not produce a fair market. That is why we need intervention and tighter regulations, to achieve the outcome that we all want to achieve: price stability and clarity, so that people know from their bills what percentage of what they pay is going to fund energy efficiency measures, and what percentage is used for external measures such as transmission and so on. Transmission has not been discussed at great length, and it is ironic that people who live at the periphery of the United Kingdom, in areas that generate much of the electricity that goes to the grid, pay more for their electricity and gas than people in other areas.
I cannot resist the opportunity to discuss transmission. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in fact, the costs of modernising electricity transmission are minimal compared with the increased prices charged by electricity and gas companies?
Absolutely. To be fair to the national grid, as part of our inquiry into the market, we went to see the National Grid Company which, for the first time, is offering choices and options in transmission, such as underground, overground and subsea. I agree that these hikes are ripping people off. They want choices and if they choose underground and it costs more in certain areas, we might have to consider paying more for it, but at the moment we are getting a poor deal when we have the minimum upgrade to the transmission lines and the infrastructure, and are paying the maximum amount through our bills. That balance needs to be addressed.
I realise that time is of the essence, but in closing I want to highlight the point about off-grid so that all households in the UK are treated equally. We need to ensure that we have a level playing field for people in peripheral areas as well as in large towns and cities when it comes to the green deal and paying for electricity and gas. I am sure that there is consensus on this and we need to move forward.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay on raising this important point about simplicity, the changing of the tariffs and how we can get a better deal for all those whom we represent, because at the moment they are being ripped off.
I shall speak to all the amendments tabled by the Opposition and Back-Bench Members in this group. The first important cluster of amendments covers the green deal. I thank hon. Members for all the amendments and the opportunity, even where we have not agreed, to debate a set of issues that are of particular significance to all our constituents. As we look towards the winter, people will be looking to us for leadership on the important issues of our energy bills and energy efficiency.
I start with amendment 1, tabled by the hon. Members for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), and new clauses 1 and 2, also tabled by the hon. Members and by Tom Greatrex. The amendments might appear to duplicate existing legislation, but they raise important issues. On our aims for meeting carbon budgets and tackling fuel poverty, legislation already exists to compel this, as the amendments highlight. There is no doubt about the coalition Government’s commitment to both those issues, and we have already met our first and second carbon budgets and published our strategy for the third. We will be publishing our strategy for meeting the fourth carbon budget in the 2020s this autumn.
As I have said, the green deal and the ECO must be seen in the context of our overarching carbon budgets. The amendments tabled by Dr Whitehead emphasise the importance of taking a broad view to maximise cost-effectiveness. Our strategy will set out the role played by the green deal and the ECO in support of the green deal. We have already committed to report to Parliament specifically on this.
The Climate Change Act 2008 already obliges us to justify any shortfall and to take action to address it. Likewise, the Act also enables the Committee on Climate Change to provide advice, which I will come to later. This aim commits the Government to ensure household energy efficiency makes a fair and appropriate contribution to delivering our existing legally binding carbon budgets. We will report each year on what our energy efficiency policies are delivering and to what extent they contribute to the carbon budgets. It will be clear to all who wish to challenge us if our policies are underperforming. That is already in the Climate Change Act or in the Bill.
Only English households are covered because energy efficiency is a devolved matter. It is not for the UK Government to dictate the ambitions of the Government of Scotland and the Welsh Assembly, but we are working in tandem with devolved Administrations, and I have been pleased with the way in which, particularly at official level, but also at a political level, there has been real agreement. We are definitely heading together in the right direction.
Amendments 9 to 12, tabled by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, relate to energy efficiency in a broader sense. I certainly support the principle behind them. He is right to say that successive Governments have ignored at their own expense—or rather, at ours—the compelling argument in favour of energy efficiency improvements before leaping to build new generation capacity, and they have failed to pick up the money available from energy efficiency action on the ground. Energy efficiency within that spectrum of measures must always focus on the most cost-effective savings. Cost-effectiveness is enshrined in policy making within the coalition, and all existing energy efficiency policies come with impact assessments for that purpose. The costs and benefits for UK plc are always in the foreground, not stuffed into the small print. It is for this reason that we propose the green deal as a market mechanism. We will publish an updated impact assessment of the green deal and the ECO, along with a consultation and full details of the secondary regulation, next month.
I assure the hon. Gentleman, who has a substantial record of campaigning and contributing to serious debate on energy efficiency, that it is something my Department now takes far more seriously. We are not just using words to show this, and it goes beyond the green deal. The green deal is clearly a radical, ambitious and key part of our efforts and a flagship policy of which we are extremely proud, but it is certainly not the end of the story. We will establish by the end of the year a new energy efficiency deployment office to deliver energy efficiency; it will sit within the Department alongside the office for renewable energy deployment and the office for nuclear energy deployment, and with equal weight. For too long, and for some extraordinary reason, while successive Governments have exalted the building of new energy generation capacity, energy efficiency, when not ignored altogether, has been dispersed around the Department. It will now have its rightful place in the Department’s hierarchy of actions and priorities.
I am happy to meet hon. Members privately to explain in detail our plans for bringing together the energy efficiency deployment office. It will not only be a first for the UK, but set a precedent around the world. In the international forums I attend, I have found real interest in what we are doing. We are looking at new market models that have not been tried anywhere else. We will certainly look abroad for best practice to build on, but I really think that we will come up with something that has a leading edge.
The energy efficiency deployment office will be tasked with identifying ways of driving further carbon abatement across the economy, which the hon. Member Gentleman seeks in his amendment, and learning from best practice in other countries. At the heart of its mission, as expressed in the amendment, will be analysing the cost-effectiveness of energy efficiency and energy generation, and it will have the resources to do that. We are recruiting the senior staff with appropriate experience to drive that effort. I hope that that satisfies him and that he is content not to press his amendment to a vote.
The amendments also raise the important matter of the role of non-domestic buildings in the green deal. I assure the House that, as I have said on many occasions, the green deal is an opportunity not only for homes and households, but for businesses and communities. There will be more detail in the consultation document, which we intend to publish next month, about how the green deal will be tailored for non-domestic—invariably business—customers. The UK’s building stock is a key sector of our annual carbon reporting, so the green deal’s contribution to both domestic and non-domestic buildings will be covered. I take the green deal’s contribution to our carbon budgets very seriously, which is why I tabled an amendment in Committee to include in the Bill that reporting commitment, as many stakeholders and other members of the Committee suggested.
In Committee we discussed at great length local authority carbon emissions and the role that local authorities have to play in producing and taking ownership of plans to reduce carbon emissions in their area. Hon. Members’ proposed changes—new clauses 3 and 4, tabled by the hon. Members for Ogmore, for Liverpool, Wavertree and for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and amendment 21, tabled by Martin Caton—deal with the role of local authorities in tackling climate change, and I cannot agree more wholeheartedly that they have a key role to play if we are to meet our national carbon reduction targets and to maximise the benefits of, for example, the green deal.
During our debates in Committee I spoke about how we are working with local government, and since then I have had more opportunity to see at first hand the considerable enthusiasm among many local authorities to engage with the climate change agenda, as demonstrated in the memorandum of understanding between my Department and the Local Government Group. I am delighted that under that MOU a new Nottingham declaration on climate change is being consulted on and is planned for publication this autumn. It demonstrates that councils are able to take the lead without central Government diktat.
We have already announced our intention to retain the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 in England, providing a mechanism already on the statute book to encourage councils to play a key role, to keep track of their progress and to take action when they fail to step up to the mark. Much of the effectiveness of the 1995 Act will lie in the new guidance that we provide. That will give us the opportunity not only to work with the grain of voluntary activity, with the enthusiasm that we see and with the work that is already under way, but, where appropriate, to focus councils on some of the specific—perhaps new—areas that the proposed changes to the Bill cover.
As the Bill Committee and, in particular, the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee suggested I do, I have already met Lord Turner of Ecchinswell and the Committee on Climate Change to discuss how it might inform the guidance that the Government are preparing to help local authorities cut carbon emission in their areas. I expect that the framework and the guidance that the CCC provides will help to answer, at least in part, the hon. Lady’s question. I expect a formal proposal from the CCC shortly; when we met, Lord Turner certainly took on board how crucial it is that the Committee’s advice be completed early next year, so as to feed into the permissive guidance for local authorities being developed by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
I am very happy to do so. Indeed, I am sure that Members will have further ideas on how to build up the advice that we give local authorities. Given that it will go to councils of every political party, it is important that it is seen to be thoroughly objective, so a sense of co-ownership would indeed be very helpful.
New clauses 7 and 18 and amendment 24 deal with the ECO and fuel poverty. Caroline Lucas, who tabled new clause 7, may recall what I said in Committee in response to a similar amendment: that the Treasury is responsible for the allocation of public funds. Putting a duty on the Secretary of State to report on potential uses of central Government revenues would, I am afraid, conflict with the Treasury’s responsibility. I assure her, however, that the Government are taking great care to ensure that their policies in the round will be up to the task of delivering our climate change and fuel poverty objectives. The ECO is a key part of this, and we will make sure that it has the right level of ambition to achieve our goals without putting an unduly heavy or inequitable burden on energy bills. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Lady will not press the amendment.
Amendment 24, tabled by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree and for Ogmore, and new clause 18, tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, focus on data sharing. Although I understand the intent of the proposal, we do not need it now because the existing warm home discount scheme will provide the six major energy suppliers with the details of more than 600,000 older poorer pensioners this winter and information on thousands of further customers over each of the three subsequent years. That information will be used to provide a £120 rebate this winter to those customers, but it can also be used to provide the customers with additional advice, including information about the ECO. Additional powers for further data sharing are therefore not necessary at this time.
The forthcoming ECO consultation will report on the likely impacts of the policy, as will the accompanying impact assessment. The type of statutory duty that amendment 24 would introduce is not necessary for the purpose of showing the intended impact that the ECO will have on fuel poverty and the energy efficiency of properties. I can therefore assure the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree and for Ogmore that the intentions of the amendment are already met in full.
Amendments 2 to 8, 19, 47 and 48 deal with the private rented sector provisions. These were tabled by Sir Alan Beith, the hon. Members for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech), for Brighton, Pavilion, for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), for Foyle (Mark Durkan), for Liverpool, Wavertree and for Ogmore, and my hon. Friend Mike Weatherley. Amendments 6, 7, 19, 47 and 48 relate to timing issues, and I will consider those first, albeit briefly.
As we debated in Committee, we are providing landlords with a firm legislative position. The tenants’ energy efficiency regulations must come into force no later than
I draw the House’s attention to the latest survey, published this week, which clearly shows that two thirds of landlords are keen to act and take up the green deal, and that only a relatively small minority—fewer than 20%—are dragging their feet. There are grounds to be optimistic that landlords are not resisting this agenda. We have set the dates of 2016 and, as a backstop, 2018, but I cannot reiterate strongly enough—
I will not give way, because I have to get through these points.
The backstop is 2018—the point at which we must cross the finishing line. Clearly, in the five years to 2018, from the point at which the green deal goes live, it will be up to the Government to monitor progress in the private rented sector. If we see that there is not a significant glide path towards being able to complete by 2018, it remains to us to take further measures and actions, and we will. [ Interruption. ] If Barry Gardiner had been in the Committee, he would know that we will have available an improved online register that is much better than the existing data facilities. We will have the information, we will monitor it carefully, and we certainly see the 2018 date as the end line and reserve the right to introduce new powers, measures, regulations and incentives to drive uptake if we do not see it happening.
Amendment 4 considers the implementation of the minimum standard. The principle behind the amendment is that all F and G-rated properties should be brought up to the minimum standard, regardless of how much of the work can be funded through the green deal. However, the regulations come with safeguards. We do not want our regulations to have an adverse impact on the supply of properties in the private rented sector. For that reason, we remain committed to ensuring that there are no up-front costs for landlords. Landlords will either have to reach an E rating or carry out the maximum package of measures funded under the green deal and the ECO, even if that does not take them above an F rating.
My hon. Friend Guy Opperman raised a very important point. The Government hear and share the concerns that he expressed so eloquently. We were so concerned by the problems in the domestic heating oil sector last winter that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Charles Hendry, asked the Office of Fair Trading to undertake an urgent assessment of the whole off-grid sector. I am pleased to say that it has already taken action to ensure that price comparison websites are genuinely independent. We look forward to its final report next month so that we can see what further steps may be necessary ahead of this winter and ensure that there is proper and effective competition in this important sector, where customers consistently get a very raw deal. The Minister of State is absolutely determined to drive home the agenda that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham articulated so well.
I turn now to the points raised by my hon. Friend Mr Baron and his new clause 19. This is an area in which he has considerable knowledge and I place on record my thanks to him for taking up the challenge of chairing the consumer billing stakeholder group, which has provided invaluable advice to the Government and has helped to drive forward the aim enshrined in clause 74 of providing consumers with additional information about their suppliers’ cheaper tariffs. My hon. Friend makes the good point that we should seek to provide consumers with helpful, clear information at the earliest opportunity, and that we should build on that through research informed by consumer groups and consumer responses. His new clause would put a set of specific implementation actions in the Bill.
As my hon. Friend is aware, because he has been essential to the steps that the Department is taking, we are on exactly the same page as him on identifying what needs to be done to give the consumer the best possible information. This winter we are doing what can reasonably be achieved, with a clear signpost on bills that will start going out in the next few weeks. There will then be an urgent communication—a letter in most cases—advising consumers of the advantages of switching. I greatly welcome the suggestion that that campaign be backed by consumer groups such as Which? and Consumer Focus to encourage a better take-up than sometimes results from similar mail. We are awaiting the recommendations of the retail market review. If we judge that it does not go far enough, we will look to go further and we have the back-stop of being able to legislate. I have conveyed clearly to the energy companies what we expect and that we will not hesitate to legislate if they do not come to a voluntary agreement.
I broadly support those recommendations, although we might have to address some of the detail, such as the nature of the communication. We want to ensure that we have the best possible advice. However, I am happy to confirm that we are on exactly the same page in broadly supporting the three recommendations my hon. Friend has made.
In summary, although I am sympathetic to the well intentioned principles behind many of the amendments, and I apologise if I have been unable to speak in detail to some of them, I hope that the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree, for Ogmore, for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, for Southampton, Test, for Brighton, Pavilion, and for Gower, and my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay, have found my reassurances, explanations and commitments satisfactory, and that they consider not pressing their proposals to a Division, given that we have moved a long way since the Bill was first published—
Debate interrupted (Programme Order,
The House divided: