POOREST IN SOCIETY EXCLUDED FROM FUEL POVERTY IMPROVEMENTS

HERE IS A LETTER I WROTE TO THE MINISTER DRAWING ATTENTION TO UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF ENERGY AND FUEL POVERTY PROGRAMES THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST THE POOREST IN SOCIETY

Dear Minister McCausland,

I am a Cllr in Down, so I am copying my local MLA Jim Wells on this issue.

I am writing to alert you to two policy issues involving your department (one of which also affects Minister Arlene Foster as well) that are affecting poor and elderly people across NI that I have been unable to resolve via your civil servants, as they can only implement the existing schemes as is, and are not empowered to address flaws in the schemes.

I have put full details below ,including links to your departments websites, to ensure it is easy for you to validate what I have written. But the two problems are in summary

1. Your excellent warm homes scheme provides those on very low incomes living in uninsulated houses to have internal insulation installed. Unfortunately the scheme cannot help the 1/2% of homes in NI that are single-wall stone-built houses. These are the coldest houses and are most likely to be lived in by those suffering from fuel poverty.

Internal insulation is not suitable for these houses, as it will bring the ‘dew point’ within the structure and create extensive damp problems within the home. Only external insulation can assist in this problem.

Elsewhere in the UK, the Warm Homes Surveyors are empowered in these circumstances to recommend that external insulation is used. I feel that it is essential that this flexibility also be shown in NI. NOTE ALSO that there are cost  savings with external insulation arising from the fact that redecoration of the house is unnecessary and that the residents do not have to  be moved out while it is going on. Equally importantly, is the fact that external insulation does not reduce the size of the home and thus preserves value – as many of these properties are public sector assets. Finally external insulation does not leave ‘cold-spots’ where condensation can be a problem, as there are areas of every house that cannot be internally insulated.

I have brought this matter to the attention of the Housing Executive during 2010 and 2011 but understand no action has been taken to change policy as of this date, and no change is planned.

2. The second problem concerns your excellent boiler replacement scheme. I am a strong supporter of your Boiler Replacement Scheme for several reasons ;

1.      It allows people on low and very low incomes to replace outmoded inefficient boilers with grants of up to £1000 to switch to modern, efficient, money-saving alternatives, helping to lift people out of fuel poverty.

2.          It allows the Executive to seed the movement from wide-spread over-dependence on fuel oil for home heating towards gas, and even to renewable energy in the form of wood-pellet boilers – an area in which our home-grown industry excels in terms of production and supply. Section 12 of the application form provides a range of sensible alternatives for the applicant to choose from.

3.        Applicants for the scheme in the Greater Belfast area are also able to avail of grants from Firmus and Pheonix, in addition to your grant, to smooth their transition from oil to gas, this is likely to cover most of not all of the cost for switching to gas.

4.         The generous grant for replacement oil-fired boilers is likely to cover the majority of the cost of a replacement oil-fired system.

As I pointed out, applicants in the Greater Belfast Area can apply for an additional grant if they are switching to gas. This is explicitly permitted in section 9 of your NIHE boiler grant  application form.

Unfortunately, because of the way section 9 is worded, applicants are (probably unintentionally) not permitted to apply for the £2,500 Renewable Heat Premium Payment Scheme (RHPPS) in respect of Wood Pellet boilers, which will make this option unaffordable for most of your applicants.

This has a number of unintended consequences;

a)    Replacement oil and gas boilers can be installed for approximately the same cost as the grant. Wood Pellet Boilers cost at least £4000, leaving a £3000 shortfall which low-income families will be unlikely to be able to find.

b)        The (presumably) accidental prohibition on applying for the RHPPS means that only well-off families will be able to apply for the £2,500 grant available to replace oil-fired boilers with renewable alternatives.

c)      Thus your scheme accidently rules out poorer people from accessing lower-cost locally produced fuel

d)      It also creates a disparity between those in the Greater Belfast Area who are able to opt for (usually) lower cost gas, and the bulk of the population around the province who are not able to opt for a lower-cost fuel.

e)      Finally, and most importantly, the current format of your application from rules your applicants out from applying for the 20-year Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)  that they would have qualified for had they been able to apply for the RHPPS. The RHI will be payable from this or next year, and while the value in NI has not yet been agreed, it was agreed in England and Wales at £950 per annum for 20 years. It is clear that the RHI has the ability to lift the worst off families in the North completely out of fuel poverty.

I am sure that you will see that the probably unintentional barring of applicants to the NI Boiler Replacement Scheme from also applying for the RHPPS has very severe consequences.

The obvious remedy is to allow in section 9 for applicants to apply for the RHPPS in the same manner in which they can apply for the Phoenix and Firmus Grants.

I trust yourself and Jim Wells can look into these two issues, and issue a Ministerial direction accordingly as neither issue would result in any budgetary variance, but simply empower those running existing scemes to do so more effectively.

Cllr Cadogan Enright

07590462329

1. contacts for the Housing Executive boiler replacement scheme in this area is   http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/grant-to-replace-your-boiler 028 9182 9761 * myra.forsythe@nihe.gov.uk

2. Grant details for the Renewable scheme is as follows;

Northern Ireland Renewable Heat Premium Payment Scheme

Technology

Support per unit (£) in a dwelling

Air Source Heat Pump 1700
Biomass boiler 2500
Ground Source or Water Source Heat Pump 3500
Solar Thermal 320

NEWS: http://www.northernireland.gov.uk/news-deti-240512-foster-launches-northern

FAQ: http://www.detini.gov.uk/fffaaaqqqq.pdf

DETAILS: http://www.detini.gov.uk/deti-energy-index/northern_ireland_renewable_heat_premium_payment_scheme_.htm

TERMS: http://www.detini.gov.uk/tandc1.pdf

FACT SHEET: http://www.detini.gov.uk/info_gpdf.pdf

APPLICATION: http://www.detini.gov.uk/app1.pdf