Boiler Scrappage Scheme PDF Print E-mail

I welcome the motion. Along with the Chairperson, I acknowledge the  Minister's commitment to the matter since the motion was tabled.

If we are serious about reducing fuel poverty and co2 emissions, it is time for Northern Ireland to consider a boiler scrappage scheme similar to that initiated in England. The scheme there allows households with the least efficient boilers to claim £400 towards a new boiler. That scheme is targeting around 125,000 households who own or privately rent their homes. If a such a scheme were introduced here, and I hope that it is, it would have the potential to benefit around 75,000 homes throughout Northern Ireland.

The scheme is designed to encourage people to replace inefficient boilers that are likely to be around 15 years old. New boilers have rated efficiencies of 90% or more, meaning that they use less fuel, which results in lower CO2 emissions and running costs. Renewable heat technologies do not use fossil fuels. If we upgrade a G-rated boiler to an A-rated boiler, household heating bills should drop by about one quarter, which is an average saving of around £235 a year.

In England, people under 60 years of age can apply for the scheme if their boiler is in working order and it is the main source of heat for their home. Those who are over 60 years of age can apply for the scheme regardless of whether their boiler works or not. However, it still needs to be the main boiler used in the home. I am not sure whether I agree entirely with those criteria. I see no reason why people over 60 years of age should be eligible for the scheme if their boiler is in perfectly good working order. However, that is a matter for England.

To apply, one must either be a homeowner or a private tenant. Landlords of multiple properties can apply, as long as each voucher is assigned to a different property. Registered social landlords and housing associations cannot apply as they are covered by alternative support in the English scheme.

Replacing old boilers has the potential to slash household energy bills and carbon emissions, while providing an important boost to our heating industry. It will help to secure jobs in small and medium-sized businesses that form a vital component of Northern Ireland’s low-carbon economy. The scheme will show how our Government continue to invest in our industries and in jobs for the future.

Given the fact that Northern Ireland has the highest rate of fuel poverty in the United Kingdom, with one in three households suffering its effects, I urge the Minister to consider the proposal seriously and to introduce it sooner rather than later. Our vulnerable households need most help. Higher energy prices have led to an increase in the number of households in fuel poverty. There are many benefits to Northern Ireland’s economy if we reduce our heating costs. Effectively, if people are not paying for more gas or heating oil, that money is at their disposal and can help the local economy. Small companies and businesses here are struggling for sales to survive, and the scheme has the potential to help them to boost their sales. The collapse in house building has hit our heating industries hard, and this is their chance to secure work. It will also help our unemployment figures, and it has the potential to increase the number of apprenticeship placements. Companies will be encouraged to become more competitive, with special offers involving complementary deals to entice people to use them when scrapping or replacing a boiler. However, we need to be mindful of the disadvantages of the scheme.

Some companies in England have taken advantage of the scheme and have overpriced boilers and installation work. That puts our vulnerable people at even greater risk, and it makes a mockery of the proposal. Some modern boilers are not built to last in the way in which old boilers were, and it has been known for them to burn out after 10 years. Some boilers that are 15 years old work perfectly well and, therefore, there would be no need for some people over 60 years of age to replace their boiler.

I encourage the Minister to be mindful of those flaws when looking at ways in which the scheme can be implemented. This winter alone has taken its toll on those who cannot afford to heat their home sufficiently or, in some cases, at all. Northern Ireland still has at least 1,000 cold-related deaths every winter, and the figure is likely to be nearer 1,300. Being fuel poor seems to be worse than just being poor. To make matters worse, it will be 30 years before we address all the households that need to be in the warm homes scheme. The pace of the present assistance simply is not fast enough, and I urge the Minister to look at the daunting figures.

The message is blunt: if people cannot afford to keep warm, they will get ill and die of cold. It is time to figure out fuel poverty once and for all, and the scheme is another way to help. We simply cannot wait any longer. I had other comments to make on the amendment, which has now not been moved. I support the motion.

 
Hilditch Welcomes The Warm Homes Scheme PDF Print E-mail

I welcome today’s motion and want to take the opportunity to thank the Minister for all the Department has done in relation to the Warm Homes Scheme and the fact that her department has made 71,000 households warmer since 2001, is a commendable achievement.

 

However, there is no doubt that its success has slowed down some.  The application process could be improved as there are certain people who are claiming benefits who are not meeting the criteria used to qualify for the scheme.  If we assess the criteria, we find that you must be a homeowner.  However, what if you are elderly and can longer cope living on your own, so you move in with family, who are willing to look after you?   I have been contacted by a constituent from east Antrim who has recently been turned down from the scheme.  The decision to refuse her does seem very unfair.  This lady has her elderly mother-in-law living with her.  The mother-in law could no longer cope living on her own and moved out of her Housing Executive bungalow over a year ago.  Her mother-in law is on all the qualify benefits, but because she does not own the current house where she resides, she will not be eligible for the scheme.    The house she is living in is cold and in a bad state of repair and her daughter-in law cannot afford to do all the necessary repair work.  Can the Minister tell me why is it that when a pensioner aged 90, moves out of a pensioners bungalow to be looked after by family and saving the government over £100 a week, is then turned down for the scheme.  Does the Minister agree that in this situation, family appear to be penalised for helping their family? They are willing to look after the elderly and let them move into their homes, yet they are not able to avail of the Warm Homes Scheme.  If this pensioner rented a property elsewhere, she would be eligible to apply to the scheme.   In this case the Department are not tackling fuel poverty they are overlooking the vulnerable and taking advantage of the family and relatives that are willing to look after their loved ones!

 

The Minister has told us that she wants to target resources so as they have the maximum impact within our communities, well then let’s consider all of the private landlords that are eligible to qualify for the scheme.  Many of their tenants are on benefits, have never worked and yet they avail of the scheme.  However, those people who have worked all their lives never claimed benefits and that are on low incomes will not be entitled to any heating upgrades.      Surely there should be some form of means testing the landlords who are entitled to avail of the scheme, the scheme increases the value of their properties.

 

If fuel poverty is a function of three distinct features: household income being one of them and energy prices; and the energy efficiency of the home being the second and third feature then why are we not assessing the income of private landlords if we only assess the income of tenants what happens when the tenant moves to another private rented property, owned by another landlord.  Landlords keep gaining from the scheme.

 

Sadly eliminating fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010 now appears impossible.  Although without Warm Homes, the Department has estimated that 53% of households would now be in fuel poverty. To date in 2009/10 only 303 heating installations have occurred out of a total of 2,111, it is very doubtful that the scheme will achieve its target of 10,000 interventions.  It would be humiliating for the department to still have 1 in 3 households in fuel poverty when there is 18 million of a budget to be spent.  Let’s get the department to look at ways in which to extend the criteria for those people who have old oil and gas boilers.

 

I have heard nothing but good reports regarding the work of the new contractors who took on the scheme in July.  Indeed, I have heard that they are able to install a new oil heating system within a day, with no mess, fuss or complications for the customer.    With this in mind then, let’s allow them to continue reducing fuel poverty, people do not want to spend another winter with inadequate heating and why should they if we have still have money to spend. We have just had one of the coldest winters in twenty years and in addition to the Winter Fuel Allowance we have paid out over £4 million to 166,000 qualifying households as a “Cold Weather Payment” to help them pay for their heating during the very cold spell.

 

In respect of this, questions must be raised – Could this money have been spent elsewhere?  The Department are able to pay over £250 each to 166,000 homes for a winter fuel allowance and a further £25 for a Cold Weather Payment, if the Warm Homes Scheme was being utilized to its full potential, would these extra allowances been necessary or is there a percentage of the qualifying 166,000 pensioners who could benefit from the Scheme meaning they wouldn’t need the extra money.

 

I would ask the Minister and her department to consider widening the schemes application criteria to include those who are on low incomes and to utilize the remaining money that has been allocated.

 

I look forward to her response.

 
Hilditch Wants Natural Gas Extended to Rural Areas PDF Print E-mail

I thank my colleague Mr Ross for securing the Adjournment debate. I welcome the opportunity to support the views of my other colleagues in East Antrim.

 

Northern Ireland has the highest rate of fuel poverty in the United Kingdom, with one in three households suffering its effects. Given that we are trying to eradicate fuel poverty for all by 2016, now is a good time to extend the gas network throughout Northern Ireland in general and to East Antrim in particular. That will give people more ways to heat their homes, bearing in mind some of the latest figures available for that area — 23% of homes in Carrick and 36% of those in Larne are unable to heat their homes adequately, which is quite a statistic for an area that is part of the greater Belfast area.

 

It seems unfair that those homeowners on benefits and low incomes are also missing out on applying for the full provision offered by the warm homes scheme. Simply because they do not have the natural gas option, many do not meet the warm homes scheme criteria. With its existing limited gas network, East Antrim has one of the lowest uptakes of help from the warm homes scheme. That is the remit of a different Department, but it has an impact.

As has been pointed out by other Members, it is disappointing that Phoenix Natural Gas will not be extending the licence to Whitehead in the late spring of this year. However, perhaps some work may be done on that and the situation will change as the year progresses, and the disappointment suffered by people in some 1,800 properties may be overturned.

 

Homeowners and businesspeople in Whitehead are not the only ones to be disappointed. For the majority of people, particularly those who live in other rural areas of East Antrim, heating their house or business with natural gas is not an option. Firmus Energy has not yet reached the area, giving Phoenix the monopoly in areas that are connected to the network. High fuel costs have forced people into fuel poverty, and, if other gas companies were able to extend into the area, Phoenix might be forced to offer some more competitive tariffs to our constituents.

 

Historically, natural gas is the most cost-effective fuel available to more than 20 million industrial, commercial and residential customers in Great Britain. It is time that we helped to extend our gas network across constituencies such as East Antrim. There are also health and safety benefits to be considered when weighing up the reasons behind installing gas supplies. In comparison to oil, the gas industry’s charges, service delivery and safety are highly regulated, and, notably, some companies offer free annual boiler services to all of their customers within 20 working days of receiving a request.

 

We need only consider the impact that our freezing weather has had on oil heating systems throughout the Province in the past few weeks, during which many schools have been forced to close due to heating system breakdowns caused by freezing pipes, an impact that might be limited if other forms of energy were used, including natural gas. In fact, I rarely hear of anyone who complains that his or her gas system has broken down. However, people who have oil central heating appear to have endless problems, particularly in certain environmental conditions.

 

Environmentally, compared with alternative fuels, natural gas industrial and commercial customers prevented more than 6,250 tons of sulphur dioxide from entering the atmosphere in 2007. That is equivalent to a cloud of polluted air over one mile high covering the whole of Northern Ireland. Domestic customers prevented 1,450 tons of sulphur dioxide from entering the air. Those figures are not to be laughed at.

 

Extending our gas network will provide much-needed employment and give us an opportunity to increase our skilled workforce, as some Members outlined, and provide opportunities for apprenticeship placements. Increasing the provision of gas will make Northern Ireland more profitable for inward investors who are looking to locate their businesses in a MP to represent them....">constituency with energy choice. That would be welcome.

 

Therefore, extending the gas network will help to address fuel poverty. It will make East Antrim a cleaner, healthier place to live, and it will give customers a reliable and modern way of heating their homes at a competitive price, while, at the same time, providing our engineering and construction industries with more employment opportunities. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this serious issue, and I thank Mr Ross for securing the Adjournment debate.

 

 
Fuel Poverty PDF Print E-mail

As Deputy Chair of the DSD committee I fully support this motion as politicians, we Members should be fully aware of the worsening impact of fuel poverty on our communities and the fact that Fuel Poverty is costing lives.  The figures as they stand at the moment are totally unacceptable.  The recent DSD paper “Ending Fuel Poverty”   released that 33% of households in Northern Ireland could not afford to heat their homes.   Meaning 1 in 3 households are spending more than 10% of their annual income to heat their homes. . It is a poor state of affairs when our older population  are having to make a choice between fuel and food.

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Charities Bill PDF Print E-mail

The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development (Mr Hilditch): The most overwhelming reason for progressing the Charities Bill is our need for legislation to modernise charity law. The Government need to create a modern legal framework that will support and encourage a vibrant and diverse third sector — a sector that plays such an important role in the lives of people in Northern Ireland. It provides vital services, strengthens communities and is often an advocate for the marginalised in our society.

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