Due to the Government removing the definition of fuel poverty from the Energy Act, thousands of households may now not be eligible for energy efficiency improvements or social tariffs...
The Energy Bill was passed yesterday and the Commons agreed the last minute amendments made on Wednesday by the Lords. Upon closer inspection of these amendments we think that the Government may be trying to change the definition of fuel poverty.
Prior to the Lords amendments the Bill had specified that, for the purposes of the Act, the definition of fuel poverty would be the same as that contained in the Warm Homes Act 2000. Although the Warm Homes Act itself doesn’t specify 10% of income, it did require the publication of the Fuel Poverty Strategy 2001, which did use the 10% of income definition that has been used since.
But on Wednesday Government amendments were passed that remove all references to the Warm Homes Act. The Act now simply states that a person is in fuel poverty if he/she “is a member of a household living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost”.
Not only that, but the amendments also allow the Secretary of State by regulations to make provisions about “what is to be regarded … as a lower income, or a reasonable cost, or the circumstances in which a home is to be regarded for those purposes as being warm”.
In other words the definition of fuel poverty is being opened up again. Furthermore, the Act specifies only that the S of S may make the provisions above (rather than must). This means that, if he/she chooses not to exercise this power, then the definition in the Act of a person in fuel poverty has no real meaning.
While the definition of fuel poverty here is for the purposes of providing social tariffs, we are concerned that it leaves the door open for this new definition to be used in the future for other purposes.
It cannot be a coincidence that the Government chose to make these amendments at the last minute. With a crowded legislative timetable, it is our view that they wouldn’t have bothered if they hadn’t been “up to something”.