With winter energy bills now landing through the door, a new report from the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP) sets out a series of actions Government and the Regulator should take in the short, medium and long term to mitigate the impact of extraordinary energy prices on people in energy poverty and prevent a further rise in hardship.
Entitled “Warm, Safe, Connected – priorities to protect households in energy poverty”. The report covers issues of policy, practice and regulation to help safeguard the most vulnerable in society. Using CSO data from the 2022 Survey of Income and Living Conditions, it shows that an estimated 377,000 people were unable to afford adequate heat. This compared to 160,000 people in 2021.
Over the last two years, soaring wholesale gas prices have pushed up domestic energy costs to unprecedented heights. Many people will have seen their electricity and gas bills double since prices began to rise in April 2021. An average estimated electricity bill has risen from around €1,000 in Spring 2020, to over €2,100 now.
This massive increase in the cost of energy has led to an acute level of need. SVP has seen energy poverty deepen amongst those who live on an income below the poverty line. Energy poverty has broadened to include households who might not have experienced difficulties before.
Issy Petrie, SVP Research and Policy Officer said, “The report covers where there has been progress in tackling energy poverty. Where there have been missed opportunities and what action is needed now. Every day, SVP members are supporting people in energy poverty. People who are getting bills there is no way they can afford. People who are struggling to keep their prepay meter topped up, or oil in the tank.
“Based on this knowledge we have set out six recommendations for the Government. And six recommendations for energy suppliers and the Energy Regulator”.
Nessan Vaughan, Vice Chair of SVP’s Social Justice Committee said “Keeping warm is a basic human need. Behind each bill, disconnected pre-pay meter or empty oil tank is a person. Trying to cope with the stress and strain of keeping their home warm and the lights switched on. Now more than ever it’s important that all stakeholders work together. To make sure the right supports are available to people at the right time to prevent a deepening of energy poverty.
Many of the reports recommendations could be actioned immediately. And would make a real difference in the lives of thousands of people. It sets out key measures that will ensure those on the lowest incomes are protected as we transition to a low carbon economy.”
Among the recommendations to Government are the introduction of a social energy tariff, targeted at households on means tested social welfare payments. And the introduction of a new statutory Consumer Advocacy Agency and a Community Energy Advice service.
Recommendations for the Regulator include a new consumer protection strategy that provides a multi-annual approach to increasing protections for customers in energy poverty and vulnerable customers. Other recommendations are aimed at offering affordable and sustainable repayment solutions for everyone in arrears with increased protections for prepay customers.
The report was launched today in Buswells Hotel, Dublin. There was a packed audience including public representatives, NGOs and energy organisation representatives.
A summary of the report was presented by Issy Petrie, SVP Research and Policy Officer. Followed by a panel discussion involving Karen Trant, Commission for the Regulation of Utilities; Dara Lynott, Electricity Association of Ireland.; Deputy Neasa Hourigan, TD; Amie Lajoie, MABS and Nat O’Connor, Age Action. The panel was chaired by Nessan Vaughan, Vice Chair of the SVP Social Justice Committee.
Full report is available at https://svp.ie/energypovertyreport2023