HC Deb 28 March 2003 vol 402 cc472-4W
Alan Simpson

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) which of her Department's public service agreements relate to fuel poverty reduction; and what progress has been made in achieving them; [104166]

(2) what training is undertaken by individuals providing advice to households under the Warm Front scheme; and what formal qualification verifies that the adviser is a skilled and competent person; [104170]

(3) in how many cases private sector landlords have been obliged to repay costs of heating and insulation installations as a result of properties that have benefited from Warm Front no longer being occupied by eligible tenants; [104168]

(4) what funding (a) was available for the Warm Front scheme in 2001–02 and 2002–03 and (b) will be available in 2003–04; how such funding relates to the annual budgets set out in the statement of 30 November 2000, Official Report column 765; and if she will make a statement; [104164]

(5) what resources are expected to be expended on domestic energy efficiency improvements over the next three years through (a) the Warm Front Programme, (b) the Energy Efficiency Commitment, (c) capital budgets of local authorities and (d) registered social landlord energy efficiency programmes; [104172]

(6) what assessment has been made of the administration costs incurred by the two Warm Front scheme managers in terms of (a) cost effectiveness and (b) efficiency programmes; [104167]

(7) if she will estimate how many households would be taken out of fuel poverty if their properties were to be improved by the average SAP rating achieved by Warm Front and Warm Front plus assistance; [104163]

(8) how many households are eligible for (a) Warm Front grants and (b) Warm Front plus grants; and by how many these numbers would be increased if there were to be 100 per cent. take up of the qualifying benefits; [104171]

(9) what progress has been made in establishing a common definition of fuel poverty for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; [104169]

(10) what research has been carried out into the match between fuel poverty and eligibility for Warm Front assistance; and if she will make a statement. [104165]

Mr. Morley

The PSA agreement relating to fuel poverty reduction in England, is included under Defra's objective 5, which is to promote sustainable management and prudent use of natural resources domestically and internationally. The PSA target is ["to reduce fuel poverty among vulnerable households by improving the energy efficiency of 600,000 homes between 2001 and 2004".] Good progress has been made against that target with around 500,000 households having received assistance so far.

All surveyors are trained to either City and Guilds 6,176 or National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) level 2 for energy efficiency awareness. Eaga's surveyors are trained to HNC/HND level for technical knowledge for buildings e.g. cavity wall insulation requirements, and customer service skills is provided to NVQ level 2. TXU's surveyors receive in-house training for customer service, first aid and health and safety.

For the period June 2000 to October 2002, 28 private sector landlords were required to repay the costs measures installed under Warm Front.

The annual budgets published 30 November 2000, Official Report column 765 were the amounts allocated to tackle fuel poverty in England for the 2000–04 financial years, the bulk of which was to be spent on Warm Front. Expenditure on fuel poverty activity in 2001–02 was £202 million, of which £197 million was spent on Warm Front. The level of funding for 2002–03 for fuel poverty is £167 million. The level of funding for 2003–04 is still under discussion. However, the Government remain committed to meeting the PSA target of assisting 600,000 vulnerable homes by 2004 and the wider ranging requirements set out in the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy published November 2001, which, is underpinned, by the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. Under the Energy Efficiency Commitment for 2002–05 (EEC), electricity and gas suppliers are required to meet targets for the promotion of improvements in domestic energy efficiency. We expect the costs of EEC for the next three years, which falls on the energy suppliers, to be around £465 million. Capital budgets of local authorities and registered social landlord energy efficiency programmes are the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister.

The two Warm Front Scheme Managers were appointed following UK Public Procurement Rules and Regulations on the basis of price tendered. The recommendation to appoint Eaga Partnership and TXU Warm Front Limited was unanimously approved as offering best value by the Tender Selection Panel. The fees paid to the Scheme Managers consist of a fixed monthly element and a variable amount paid for each household where work has been completed and invoiced. The level of expenditure on administration of the scheme is a matter of commercial confidentiality.

Assuming an average SAP increase of 19 points per property and based on the 1998 Energy Follow Up Survey data, it is estimated that the percentage of households in fuel poverty based on full income (including Housing Benefit or ISMI) and basic income (excluding Housing Benefit or ISMI) would fall to 9 per cent. and between 14–15 per cent. respectively. This compares with 16.4 per cent. and 22.3 per cent. respectively at the time of issue of the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy. However, it should be noted that while some properties may receive measures leading to a smaller SAP gain others may achieve a greater gain.

The number of households eligible for Warm Front cannot be obtained from the information collected on benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Inland Revenue. Figures on eligibility and take up of benefits are collected on the basis of benefit units, which may be a single person or a couple. Benefit units do not correspond directly to households as there may be more than one benefit unit per household, whether that is because an individual is on more than one benefit or more than one recipient of a benefit is occupying the same household.

The procedures used in estimating the take-up of a single benefit cannot be extended to combined benefits without making considerable assumptions/judgments. The figures produced would therefore be highly unreliable and due to the complexity involved would be achieved at highly disproportionate costs.

Estimates of take-up of individual income-related benefits (income Support, Minimum Income Guarantee, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance) are produced by the Department for Work and Pensions . A report containing the latest statistics, entitled "Income Related Benefits Estimates of Take-Up in 1999/2000", is held in the Library.

In the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy, published November 2001, the Government gave a commitment to working towards a consistent definition of fuel poverty across the UK. Whilst some progress has been made, there is not yet uniformity.

In Scotland, the definition is now broadly in line with that agreed for England. One difference that remains is that the satisfactory heating regime for elderly and infirm households is set at 23°C in the main living area compared to the English definition of 21°C. The Welsh Assembly is still considering the position with respect to the definitions of income. They will monitor the number of households in fuel poverty using the same definition as in England. Northern Ireland's definition of fuel poverty will be subject to consultation.

We are currently carrying out a review of Warm Front to look what it has delivered; the issues faced such as the link between fuel poverty and eligibility for assistance under Warm Front, solutions found, examples of best practice and future priorities. A report of that review will be produced during 2003.