Monday, March 02, 2009

Fuel Poverty Bill: Ask Joan Ruddock to support the bill

I've been contacted by campaigners for the Fuel Poverty Bill, a private members bill that is currently going through parliament and which would tighten up the government's legal duty to tackle fuel poverty.* They are concerned that the Department for Energy and Climate Change may try to block the bill's passage through parliament. The junior minister responsible for making a recommendation to cabinet on this is Lewisham Deptford MP Joan Ruddock.

The campaigners want as many Lewisham Deptford constituents as possible to contact Joan Ruddock over the next few days and ask her to support and call for government backing of the bill. She is expected to make a formal recommendation to cabinet this week, so it is important that people contact her at the beginning of this week. Please call her consituency office on 020 8691 5992 or e-mail her.

The Fuel Poverty Bill aims to ‘fuel poverty proof' homes by bringing 6 million homes up to the energy efficiency standards of modern homes. It was taken up (with cross-party support) by David Heath MP and is backed by a broad coalition of organisations, including Age Concern England, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Child Poverty Action Group, Consumer Focus, Disability Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Help the Aged, National Right to Fuel Campaign, SERA, Sustainable Energy Partnership and UNISON. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes are about to come on board too!

The very quick background to the Bill is that in 2000 the Labour Government passed the Warm Homes Act, which required the Government to publish a Fuel Poverty Strategy setting out the ways and timescale in which they were going to end fuel poverty. The resulting Fuel Poverty Strategy set dates for the eradication of fuel poverty in the vulnerable sector (2010) and in the rest of the sector (2016). MPs and Ministers believed that this was an absolute duty – until the High Court ruled otherwise on 17 October. In a judgment that campaigners believe to be perverse (and that is being appealed), the judge, Mr Justice McCombe, ruled that the duty to end fuel poverty was not a duty at all – merely a duty to make efforts.

Put simply, the Fuel Poverty Bill reinstates the duty in the Warm Homes Act. It aims to ‘fuel poverty proof’ the homes of the fuel poor by bringing them up to the energy efficiency standards of modern homes. Joan Ruddock recently confirmed that this can be done for the relatively modest sum of £7,500 per (average) fuel poor household. In addition, the Bill will give a much-needed boost to the UK “green construction” industry and create tens of thousands of new jobs. The Bill also requires energy suppliers to provide a social tariff to vulnerable households in the short term.

Back in 2000, Joan Ruddock enthusiastically supported the original 2000 Warm Homes Act with its aim of ending fuel poverty in the United Kingdom. In addition, just a month ago (on 14 January 2009), in giving evidence to the EFRA Select Committee, she expressly confirmed that the Government “do not intend to miss the 2016 target”.

*The official definition of fuel poverty is if you spend 10% or more of your income on heating your home.

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