34. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he is conducting a review of his Department’s strategy to combat energy poverty 2016 to 2019; the way in which he plans to further reduce energy poverty in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 41700/17 asked on 04 Oct 2017)

Deputy Denis Naughten: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The strategy to combat energy poverty published in 2016 sets out the actions that will be taken between 2016 and 2019 to alleviate the burden of energy poverty on the most vulnerable in society. It focuses on a small number of high impact actions that will make a real difference to the lives of those living in energy poverty. In 2019 my Department will undertake a public consultation process to review the strategy. This consultation will review the progress made in understanding energy poverty in Ireland, allow for a broader debate on whether the general policy direction is reducing levels of energy poverty, and whether new approaches are required.

The better energy warmer homes scheme, which is administered by the SEAI, is the Government’s main scheme for addressing energy poverty. It delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low-income households, allowing them to heat their homes adequately while making them less vulnerable to increases in energy costs or decreases in income. To date, nearly 125,000 low-income households have received a free energy efficiency upgrade under the scheme.

The better energy warmer homes scheme will continue in 2018, and I intend to continue working with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to ensure eligibility for the scheme is consistent with its income support schemes. If data on social inclusion demonstrate that particular groups are vulnerable to deprivation, an amendment of the scheme will be considered to ensure these groups receive support. This was already done in 2016 when eligibility for the scheme was extended to lone parent families in line with evidence gathered under the survey on income and living conditions, which suggested that basic deprivation is particularly acute for lone parent families.

In 2016, my Department launched the warmth and well-being pilot scheme in partnership with the Department of Health, the HSE and the SEAI. It is accepted that housing is a social determinant of health and, as such, a cold, damp house can contribute to poor health and poor well-being of the residents. The scheme will measure the impact that an energy efficiency upgrade can have on the health and well-being of people living with chronic respiratory conditions and build an evidence base for expansion. This scheme will continue in 2018, and I expect to allocate at least €20 million in funding to the pilot by the end of 2018 to provide for the upgrade of at least 1,500 homes.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

People living in rented accommodation are generally more vulnerable to energy poverty. My Department has worked with external experts to examine the impact of introducing minimum energy efficiency standards for rented properties. My Department is now working to update the research findings with updated data from the 2016 Census. When this is done I intend to present the findings with a view to publishing the research and engaging in full public consultation.

The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, formerly the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, is responsible for ensuring a high standard of protection for all energy customers, including those in energy poverty, and delivers on this by publishing guidelines and requirements such as the supplier’s handbook. The handbook sets out minimum service requirements that suppliers must adhere to in their dealings with energy customers. All suppliers are required to have in place a code of practice on vulnerable consumers.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his kindness in allowing a few extra minutes. I thank the Minister for his reply. Regarding the actions he has taken, has he set up the independently chaired energy poverty advisory group, which I believe he promised as part of the strategy? He is very aware of how huge a problem this is. All Deputies are. It is estimated that 400,000 households live with some kind of energy poverty, and Age Action states perhaps 2,000 senior citizens die from energy-poverty-related illnesses each year. The Minister mentioned the warmth and well-being energy efficiency programme, which I welcome. Is it possible to extend that? The pilot scheme was in action in the south side of Dublin. When does the Minister intend to extend the programme to the postal areas of Dublin 3, 5, 9, 13 and 17, the postal areas in the area I represent, Dublin Bay North?

The Minister mentioned SEAI and the work it does through the warmer homes initiative. He promised there would be free upgrades. He reported that 120,000 homes had gone through the better energy warmer homes scheme. Was there more action on that?

The EU programme Horizon 2020 was the background to the Minister’s promoting and financing of energy efficiency in Ireland. The associated event took place earlier this year in Dublin. What was the outcome of that? Is the Minister in a position to secure further EU funding to tackle this very real problem? It is huge European problem, as the Minister knows. Some 54 million people are affected by energy poverty in the European Union.

Deputy Denis Naughten: It is a problem. I spoke at the International Energy Agency meeting in Paris before the summer and talked about the pilot warmth and well-being scheme. It took me half an hour to get down through the auditorium afterwards given the number of Ministers who were coming up to me from right across the globe in regard to this.

With regard to the warmer homes scheme for 2017, up to the end of August 4,515 homes received an energy efficiency upgrade under the scheme, with capital expenditure of €11.5 million. By the end of the year, we expect to spend €21.2 million in providing upgrades in relation to that.

On the expansion of the warmer homes scheme, the Deputy’s question is one I ask myself because there is a small bit of ground west of the River Shannon to which it would be nice to see it extended. It is a phenomenal scheme. It needs to be ramped up significantly right across this country. The decisions on locations were made by the HSE, not by our Department, sadly. I know of a few locations I would like to be considered. The empirical evidence that will start coming through from the end of this year will give us grounds for making a case to expand the scheme, not just to other parts of Dublin but to parts across the country.