Digital Economy Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Committee on Fuel Poverty (DEB 28)

DIGITAL ECONOMY BILL: DATA SHARING

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Fuel Poverty (CFP) ahead of the start of the Committee Stage of the Digital Economy Bill, regarding provisions in the Bill for sharing Government data with public authorities and non-public sector organisations for the purpose of providing assistance to citizens living in fuel poverty.

By way of background, the CFP is an advisory Non-Departmental Public Body, whose role is to advise the Government on tackling fuel poverty in England. We were launched as a new Committee in January this year and have recently published our first report.

Fuel poverty remains a serious problem in England. The latest statistics show that 2.38 million households in England were in fuel poverty in 2014, with an average fuel poverty gap of £371 (this is the additional amount these households would need to spend to meet their energy needs, compared with the national median). The average also of course masks variations, and those in deepest fuel poverty face gaps of more than £1500. Evidence shows that fuel poverty has a wide range of serious impacts, perhaps most notably on health, but also on areas such as social isolation and poor outcomes for younger people. Needless to say, this has huge costs on the health services and the economy.

We believe that the data sharing provisions in the Digital Economy Bill will be instrumental in helping to make significant progress in tackling fuel poverty, and our purpose in writing to you now is to underline the importance of these provisions. It is important to note that the high level statistics on fuel poverty (number of households, fuel poverty gap, etc.) have been generated through computer modelling and are have not been determined by adding up individual households, as there are currently no effective means to identify the addresses of households in fuel poverty. We do not feel that other approaches to sharing data would be as effective as those that are outlined in the current Bill provisions. A consent-based approach, for example, would not be as successful in providing automatic assistance to the most vulnerable households.

In our report, we discuss from paragraphs 2.21 to 2.32 the importance of improving targeting of key government schemes, so that many more households in fuel poverty can benefit from support. We describe how current support is not targeted effectively on reaching households in fuel poverty under the "Low Income, High Cost" definition. We are very encouraged by the work that the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy is doing, working with other Government departments, to improve the potential for targeting such schemes. Successful outcomes to this work depend, however, on the legislation to enable data sharing.

We have recommended in the report that "high priority is given by the Government to ensure that appropriate data sharing legislation is introduced within the currently envisaged timeframe of late 2017/early 2018". We have also said that "it is difficult to overstate the importance of being able to identify individual households in fuel poverty … so that assistance can be targeted effectively at them" and have recommended that the Government "significantly (improves) the targeting of funds towards households in fuel poverty from the existing ECO (Energy Company Obligation) programme and the programmes included in the Fuel Poverty Delivery Scorecard (e.g. Winter Fuel Payment, Cold Weather Payment and Warm Home Discount)".

In short, if there is not a substantial improvement in the targeting of funding from existing programmes on households in fuel poverty, we believe there is a very high risk that the Government will not reach its milestone of moving as many fuel poor households as is reasonably practicable to energy efficiency Band E by 2020. The subsequent 2025 milestone (as many households to Band D as is reasonably practicable) and the 2030 fuel poverty target (Band C) will also be far harder to achieve.

The provisions within the Digital Economy Bill regarding data sharing are key to tackling fuel poverty. To conclude, we strongly support the Government’s proposals in this area and would also stress the importance of avoiding any delay that may lead to later than envisaged implementation of the provisions.

Jenny Saunders, OBE

On behalf of the Members of the Committee on Fuel Poverty

Members:

Dr Alice Maynard CBE DBA C Dir

Jenny Saunders OBE

Paul Massara

David R Blakemore

Lawrence Slade

October 2016

 

Prepared 13th October 2016