My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. As she says, there is some agreement across the House on the importance of tackling fuel poverty. Like her, I look forward to further debates on this issue in the months, and even years, ahead.
As I have stated, these regulations were prepared in difficult circumstances. I very much regret that they have come before this House so late. Although some households will receive their rebates later than in previous years, the majority will reach customers during the coldest months of the year. As I stated in my opening remarks, payments will start in mid-October and not in December, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, feared.
To respond to another of her points, we are in touch with suppliers and have put in place steps to ensure that they can begin to credit customers’ accounts by mid-October, helping those customers to keep warmer. We will also closely monitor delivery during the scheme, especially given the delay. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that I cannot perform a miracle. I can reassure him that I have tried to be completely transparent about what the new timetable is as a result of the delay, which I think we all regret.
I hope that the unusual circumstances of this year will not be repeated next time round. As the new Minister, I take note of what has been said about the importance of avoiding delays in the future and the wish of noble Lords to be able to engage.
As it happens, the Digital Economy Bill, which has been introduced in the other place, will provide the powers to be able to combine data on benefits and the housing stock, helping us to identify more households in fuel poverty. The Government accept that the targeting of this scheme could be improved and, therefore, we are seeking to take steps to improve it. The new powers will provide the Government with the opportunity they need, and also opportunity for debate. We will, of course, be consulting, as we try to do on these sorts of schemes, on the way that we will go about using the new information-sharing powers that we hope to obtain.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, rightly pointed out, and I can confirm, that we have committed to extending the warm home discount to 2020-21. That discount continues to help a large number of poorer households with their energy costs, right across the country, at a time when they are most in need. We will work with stakeholders to deliver these changes efficiently and will continue to provide help where and when it is needed in the most effective way. This obviously complements other proposals that either exist or are being consulted on, such as the energy company obligation and improvements to homes in the private rented sector, which have some of the worst energy efficiency ratings.
The noble Baroness also mentioned measures stemming from the CMA report, which is one thing that I plan to read this weekend. If I have anything further to say, I will certainly come back to her. I look forward to learning from her in this new brief.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that these regulations are important and forgive us for the delay. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.