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In 2022, SVP provided €7.1 million in support to households struggling with energy costs Alamy stock photo
energy poverty

Surge in calls to SVP over last three years as people struggle with energy bills

St. Vincent de Paul and the SEAI will this morning addressing an Oireachtas Committee on energy poverty.

CALLS FOR HELP with energy poverty to St. Vincent de Paul increased by 68% between 2021 and 2023.

SVP and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) will later address the Social Protection Committee on energy poverty, specifically in reference to the retrofitting of homes and the suitability of the fuel allowance to meet people’s needs.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Committee Cathaoirleach Denis Naughten said: “Recent price cuts by some energy providers are welcome but energy poverty is a widespread issue that must be tackled within the context of meeting our climate action goals.”

He added: “Housing standards, income issues, and energy retail issues are interconnected, and must be tackled together as energy inefficient homes are more expensive to maintain and place a disproportionate financial burden on such households.

“The need to include more homes within retrofitting strategies, income supports for energy efficiency and advice on conserving energy are among the topics we expect to discuss with representatives.”

In its address to the committee this morning, SVP will remark that the assistance it gives with energy has “increased significantly due to the energy crisis and persistence on energy poverty”.

In 2021, SVP provided €4.2 million in support to households struggling with energy costs, and this increased to €7.1 million in 2022.

Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP’s head of social justice and policy, will tell the committee that this increase in the level of support is reflected in calls for assistance with energy, which increased by 68% between 2021 and the end of 2023.

Keilthy will also outline how SVP members “see many households living in conditions that are unacceptable, including living with damp and mold at home, extremely poor heating systems, and usually facing severe limitations, or are completely prevented from making improvements to their home themselves”.

She will also note that rural households that are reliant on oil often cannot afford to fill their tank and “must resort to buying solid fuel or containers of kerosene which is unsafe and more expensive”.

SVP said it “remains concerned about the people not accounted for within current retrofitting plans, including renters”.

While it noted that there is a “generous programme” through the Free Energy Upgrades scheme for homeowners on certain social welfare payments, “there are many people in energy poverty who are not eligible for this type of support”.

“Our primary recommendation in this area is that free upgrades are extended to private rented households in receipt of HAP, conditional on a long term lease,” said SVP.

Keilthy will also use SVP’s opening statement to call for a “commitment that all social housing should reach a high BER level by 2030, and a clear pathway for the private rental sector needs to be prepared”.

However, the charity warns that this will require a “sensitive balance to ensure adverse consequences such as ‘renovictions’ are avoided”.

SVP noted recent analysis which shows that in many cases, the costs of hearing a home are halved when moving from an E to an A rating.

However, SVP cautions that even this would not be enough to lift many households out of energy poverty.

Energy poverty in Ireland is currently measured using an expenditure-based method, where a household is considered to be in energy poverty if it is spending more than 10% of its income on energy.

SVP said many households will still be paying more than 10% of their income on energy with such improvements in BER levels and that there is a “need to focus on adequate income supports, such as the Fuel Allowance and core Social Welfare Rates, alongside improvements in energy efficiency.”

“Only in combination will energy poverty be alleviated,” said SVP.

In addition to this, the charity will also call for a community energy advice service.

Keilthy will note to the committee that “people in energy poverty do not have a clear point of support that understands that housing standards, income issues, and energy retail issues are interconnected”.

SVP will call for a wraparound advice service that spans these issues, with expertise in the energy market, as well as hightlighting the need to address housing standards and access to supports for retrofitting.

The charity said this service should be locally based and person-centered, and help people to navigate out of energy poverty as well as benefit from the energy transition.

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