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Household Utility Bills Support: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys] I believe the shared objective we have here today is to help people who do not have the wherewithal to cover extra fuel costs and to target resources at those who need them most. If individuals are experiencing genuine difficulties in heating their homes, I encourage Deputies to please direct them to my Department because we are here to help. I assure Deputies that my priority, and the fundamental objective of the Government, is to ensure that those most in need in our society are supported.

Any fair-minded analysis would find that the Government has not been found wanting in providing support to date. We only have to look at the Exchequer figures released yesterday to see that they show total spending by my Department is up 42%. I accept, however, that there will always be hard cases. I hear about them in my constituency office, and I do not doubt the sincerity of Deputies raising those cases today. My core message is that if people need additional support above and beyond what is already in place, I ask the Deputies to tell those people to contact my Department. Support is available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. I am sharing the rest of my time with Deputy Bruton.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I welcome this debate, but listening to the Sinn Féin speakers, one would not get any hint that energy poverty has halved in the past three years, that is, between 2016 and 2019. The key to tackling energy poverty lies in the energy systems that families have. A less energy efficient-rated home will have heating bills ten times those of a more energy efficient home. Using an open fire to heat a home is four times more costly compared with an efficient gas system.

I welcome the progress being made under the warmer homes and local authority schemes, where 215,000 homes of low-income families have had their energy rating upgraded. That has probably yielded about a 50% increase in what is available from the fuel scheme. It is a valuable increase, and it is not just for one year. It is an increase in energy efficiency that will continue forever for that home and for the families who live there. The scheme is 100% funded by the Government.

I also welcome the broadened access to the scheme. It is now available to those on carer's allowance, domiciliary care allowance, those jobseekers who have been out of work for more than six months, and those low-income families claiming what used to be called the family income supplement. I also welcome the extension of the community scheme, which is very innovative. It offers more flexibility, because instead of some families just above the threshold having to pay 75% of the cost, this scheme allows lower income families to be included in a flexible way at an affordable cost.

I believe, however, that we must show far greater ambition in this area. I want to see the rental sector, where many low-income families are living, targeted by these schemes. I also want to see an area-based scheme introduced. The reality is that homes built before 1950 typically have six times the energy use of the type of target which we have set for the long term. We must see those homes addressed on an area basis to ensure that every low-income family and others can participate in this upgrading scheme. A retrofitting wave, as it is described in the European Union, which would be modelled on our community scheme, is the answer. and in that way we can make even more progress regarding the important issue of energy poverty.

Deputy Paul Donnelly: Information on Paul Donnelly Zoom on Paul Donnelly I listened to what the Minister and Deputy Bruton said, but unfortunately neither addressed the current issue of the impact of the pandemic. Under the current regulations, people must be unemployed for more than 15 months before they are entitled to financial support with their heating costs. This means that workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic and who are on the PUP are excluded from these vital financial supports.

The National One Parent Family Alliance has highlighted pressing concerns about the ability of families to keep their homes as well as the issue of utility debt and arrears. The Government must change its policy. Thousands of workers in my constituency in Dublin West and beyond are out of work simply because of the pandemic. They are looking forward to going back to work.

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