Energy Bills

Energy and Climate Change – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 26th January 2012.

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Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland) 10:30 am, 26th January 2012

What steps he is taking to help households to reduce their energy bills.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

The coalition is taking action to help consumers to reduce their bills. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has launched the “check, switch, insulate to save” campaign, which was showcased in big energy week. That measure, together with the new warm home discount, the winter fuel and cold weather payments, the carbon emissions reduction target and community energy saving programmes, the Warm Front scheme and signposts on bills to the cheapest tariff information, will help hard-pressed consumers. However, the green deal will be the game-changer that the country really needs.

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Does the Minister grasp the seriousness of the situation facing families across the country? The average fuel bill is now £1,345 a year—an increase of 48% in the last five years. When are the Government going to act to pare back the system of tariffs—the number of which has risen by 70 in the past year under this Government—which discriminates against those who use the least energy?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I am afraid that it was actually under the last Labour Government, when the present Leader of the Opposition was Secretary of State, that the number of tariffs went up to 400, an increase of 75%. We are now getting to grips with that, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to blame someone for the proliferation of tariffs, he should blame the total inaction of the then Secretary of State.

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Conservative, Orpington

Does the Minister realise that he could help businesses, as well as households, to reduce their energy bills, by introducing mandatory motion-sensitive lighting systems? That would reduce the carbon intensity of our built environment and promote the ability of many people to enjoy starry, starry nights.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

That is just the kind of technology that will be brought into the reach of millions of homes by the green deal, and it is just the kind of innovation that we want to spur. We would also look at how we might drive that by making amendments to consequential improvements. I am very interested in my hon. Friend’s ideas.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

It is understood that there has been a significant underspend, of up to £30 million, in the Warm Front scheme, because DECC has made the eligibility criteria too strict and has not promoted the scheme. That means that up to 20% of the scheme’s funding could go unclaimed. Is it correct that there will be an underspend at the end of the financial year, and if so, what is the reason for it?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

The hon. Lady is right; we are slightly behind. The unseasonably warm weather that we have had this winter, compared with the cold weather last year, has meant that the number of applications has been lower. However, I am in touch with the leaders of our big metropolitan authorities, and I have spoken to the big six energy companies, Citizens Advice and others this week in order to drive forward the roll-out of Warm Front to ensure that we do not have the underspend that she has highlighted.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

The green deal has just been described as the “game-changer”, but the concern being expressed by those living in Thirsk, Malton and Filey is that it will push up their household energy bills. Will the Minister follow up the suggestion put to the Prime Minister yesterday by looking favourably on schemes such as biomass, rather than unreliable wind farms, in the green energy mix?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

My hon. Friend is a little bit confused. Biomass and other forms of renewable heating or electricity generation have nothing to do with the green deal, which is an energy efficiency roll-out that will reduce the amount of electricity and heating required in homes, but I will certainly be happy to look at her ideas.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

According to an answer that I received to a question just the other day, the underspend is actually £32 million, so it has gone up. We all know that soaring energy bills are contributing to the cost of living crisis afflicting millions of families. Millions of pensioners over the age of 75, who are the most susceptible to the cold weather and the least able to access the advantages of online energy deals, pay more for their electricity and gas than they need to. Surely it is only fair that energy companies should guarantee that elderly customers over the age of 75 should be placed on the cheapest tariff for their gas and electricity. Will the Government ensure that the energy companies have access to the data that they will need in order to achieve that?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

As I said earlier, the number of tariffs proliferated by 75% in the last three years of the Labour Government, when they had the opportunity to do something about this. We actually want everyone to be on cheaper tariffs, but there is lots to do, because of the appalling inheritance from the last Government. We want everyone to get a good deal, not just the over-75s, and we are taking action to make that happen.