Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from National Energy Action (NEA)

  NEA is the national charity which develops and promotes practical action to alleviate fuel poverty. NEA submitted written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee's Energy Efficiency Report and welcomes the opportunity to comment further on the report's conclusions and on subsequent policy developments.


  NEA notes a degree of equivocation in the Government's commitment to the reduction of 20 per cent in CO2 emissions over 1990 levels by the 2010. Whilst this reflects the ambitious nature of the objective it is important that it be seen as a target rather than aspiration.

  NEA welcomes the emphasis on improved energy efficiency in the domestic sector and endorses the expansion of Energy Efficiency Standards to the gas industry and the renewed emphasis on priority assistance for older consumers and vulnerable householders.

  The devolution of responsibility for EESoP 4 from the regulator to the Secretary of State is particularly important as charges levied on consumers will increase substantially. Clearly it is appropriate that a policy investment such as EESoP should be directed by Government rather than an appointed official.

  The New Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) is a major advance and can make a substantial contribution to the alleviation of fuel poverty. NEA welcomed the increased budget for the scheme and the inclusion of heating system improvements. However there is some concern about the post-devolution fragmentation of the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme and, in particular, the contrast between HEES in England and the Warm Deal in Scotland. Whereas the maximum grant in England will be £2,000 the figure for Scotland is £500.


  The Utilities Bill can make a major contribution to the alleviation of fuel poverty and NEA welcomes the intent behind the proposed legislation. The inclusion of guidance on social and environmental matters is particularly important in ensuring protection for low-income consumers. NEA believes this element of the Utilities Bill to be overly vague and leaving too much to the discretion and judgement of the Authority. Government policy objectives can only be secured through prescription and direction.

  The Bill's provisions on help for disadvantaged groups of electricity/gas consumers are unnecessarily limited. The Secretary of State's powers should include potential intervention beyond the tariff structure to ensure other areas of service provision such as a moratorium on disconnection from supply for disadvantaged consumers.

  NEA also has reservations about the energy efficiency requirements for electricity distributors and suppliers/gas transporters and suppliers. The term "promotion" is weak in describing what ought to be measurable outcomes through the implementation of practical energy efficiency measures. Any requirement should emphasise the need to secure energy efficiency improvements.


  NEA endorses the Committee's view that energy efficiency should be prioritised in the hierarchy. It is clearly a prerequisite for sustainability and is also the unique long-term solution to fuel poverty.

  The Government's energy strategy should feature clear targets for energy efficiency improvements across all sectors. The Home Energy Conservation Act provides a model for this approach in the domestic sector and consideration should be given as to how this might be extended to industry, commerce and transport.


  There is universal recognition that the only permanent solution to fuel poverty lies in energy efficiency. The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill requires the Government to develop a strategy to eliminate fuel poverty. There is unanimous all-party support for the objectives of the Bill which completed its second Reading Stage on March 10 with 143 supporting votes to none against. The Bill starts its Committee Stage on 5 April.

  NEA commends the DETR's issuing of guidance to local authorities on including progress on fuel poverty reduction as an element of their Home Energy Conservation Act reports but regrets that local authorities will not be required to quantify the size of the problem. Reliable information on the breadth and depth of the problem is essential to accurate measurement of progress.

  Initial findings from New HEES pilot schemes managed by the Energy Saving Trust suggest that beneficiaries are still not being taken out of fuel poverty. The DETR should establish a monitoring procedure to determine the capacity of New HEES to fulfil its objectives of reducing fuel poverty.


  NEA welcomes the renewed commitment by the DTI to the Affordable Warmth Programme and its objective of helping install 1 million modern gas heating systems primarily for low-income households. The reduction in Value Added Tax on domestic energy efficiency work is also a positive development by Government. However NEA is ambivalent about the Chancellor's decision to raise the Winter Fuel Allowance for pensioners from £100 per household to £150. Whilst this will undoubtedly benefit the poorest pensioners it excludes the poorest non-pensioner households and includes those affluent pensioners who have no need for such a subsidy. Expenditure on Winter Fuel Allowances will total some £1.2 billion per year from next winter. These resources would have been much better diverted to a major national programme of domestic energy efficiency.

April 2000

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