On Thursday 8 July, Sir David Amess spoke about the dangers of fuel poverty and how necessary it is to bring all properties up to at least an EPC Band C. Sir David introduced the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act in 2000 and has been campaigning for more accessible fuel for all ever since.
Sir David said
Some 20 years ago, I introduced my private Member’s Bill to eliminate fuel poverty. It received Royal Assent in 2000 and was called the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act. It was inspired by a Polish gentleman living in a high rise block of flats who died of fuel poverty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) said, no one should die of fuel poverty. I am delighted that fuel poverty in England fell by 3.9 million households between 1996 and 2004, and decreased by 34% between 2010 and 2019, but I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that the fact we are having this debate today means we still have not eliminated fuel poverty.
My 2000 Act placed on the Government a duty to produce a strategy to ensure an end to fuel poverty “as far as is reasonably practicable” in 15 years. However, in a subsequent court case the judgment was that the words of the Act meant there could only be an “effort” to achieve the targets, instead of guaranteeing that they would be reached. In addition, the courts ruled that the words “as far as is reasonably practicable” meant that the Government could deprioritise fuel poverty if, for instance, resources were tight. In short, therefore, the courts ruled that there was no duty to end fuel poverty, only to try to do so. As a result, fuel poverty was not ended by 2016.
Fuel poverty needs to be eliminated, as the whole House agrees, as quickly as possible to maintain our population’s health and to prevent any avoidable deaths that can happen as a result of a cold home. I am pleased, however, that my Act has been updated and that the current duty to bring fuel-poor homes up to at least Energy Performance Certificate Band C by 2030 is set in regulations. However, the words “as far as is reasonably practicable” are used time and again, so I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister can confirm today that the only exceptions to ending fuel poverty will be made due to the physical characteristics of the property or the occupiers’ refusal to have works carried out.
I introduced—listen to me, as if I am a separate Government—a Back-Bench Bill called the Domestic Properties (Minimum Energy Performance) Bill in the last Session “to ensure that domestic properties have a minimum energy performance rating of C” and “to give the Secretary of State powers to require persons to take action in pursuance of that duty”.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to agree to a meeting with her officials to discuss energy performance of buildings. I am working with the industry and experts on a revised version of the Bill. I know that no Government enjoys private Members’ Bills in reality; they always like to promote them themselves—I am not bothered about who takes the glory. I believe that it would certainly be beneficial in reducing fuel poverty if she and officials worked with me on the new Bill. Among other things, it would reduce the impact on the environment and make fuel more accessible to all in privately rented properties, social housing, new homes and owner-occupier properties.
There are brilliant charities throughout the country, especially in Southend, that help people who are struggling financially. Age Concern in Southend offers a range of support for older people. One of the concerning trends that it is starting to see is the number of older people requiring services that indicate they are housebound. This means that they use more fuel for heating and cooking while they are on a fixed income. There may be a fuel poverty crisis coming our way. This has, of course, been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic. The types of inquiries that Age Concern is receiving are for its befriending services, social activities and help at home. The Government need to invest in preventive measures that would get older people out of the house and active again. This will keep people healthier and help to alleviate the need for fuel use. This is where the Haven community hub in Westcliff comes in, which encourages people to leave their homes, where it is safe to do so with the current restrictions, and socialise.
In conclusion, it is promising that colleagues are debating this topic today and there have been improvements in reducing the rate of fuel poverty in the last 21 years, but really, I say to my right hon. Friend, we need to do more. The coronavirus pandemic has further pushed developments back and I hope that the Government perform their statutory duties by bringing fuel-poor households up to EPC band C by 2030. The wording of these regulations should not limit the extent to which fuel poverty can be reduced, as my Act suggested 21 years ago. People still need heating and electricity during the coronavirus pandemic and these problems will never go away unless concrete legislative action is actually taken.