Murnane O’Connor raises concerns over impact of rising energy costs
Published on: 03 February 2022
Fianna Fáil TD for Carlow, Jennifer Murnane O’Connor has raised concerns about the impact of rising energy costs on people on a fixed income such as a pension and eligible for the Household Benefits Scheme.
Deputy Murnane O’Connor commented, “Now that restrictions have been lifted, I am meeting more constituents in my clinics and the cost of energy is an issue which is of particular concern. I see this most acutely for those on a fixed income such as a pension and eligible for the Household Benefits Scheme. I have raised this pressing issue with Minister Humphreys.”
She added: “We need plans to meet the increased cost to recipients of the household benefits package in relation to the electricity price increase which came into effect on 1 October 2020.”
In response, the Minister stated: “Any decision to increase the electricity and gas aspect of the package would have budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the context of overall budget negotiations.”
The Minister went on to state that the Government is committed to protect vulnerable households from energy poverty. In light of ESRI research and the commitment to ensure that the carbon tax is progressive, the Government has committed to very significant increases in a targeted package of social protection supports in Budget 2022. These supports were selected to counteract the impact of the increased carbon tax on low-income households. The specific measures are:
An increase to the Qualified Child Payment of €2 per week for children under 12 and €3 per week for children over 12.
An increase in the Living Alone Allowance of €3 per week.
An increase to the Fuel Allowance of €5 per week.
An increase in the income threshold for Working Family Payment of €10 per week.
Analysis undertaken estimates that the net impact of the combined measures is progressive. Households in the bottom four income deciles will see all of the cost of the carbon tax increase offset, with the bottom three deciles being better off as a result of these measures.
As well as increasing the weekly rate of fuel allowance with immediate effect, we also made a number of reforms to the fuel allowance scheme in Budget 2022, including:
Increasing the weekly means threshold by €20 to €120, representing a 20% increase and enabling more people to qualify for this support.
The qualifying period for Jobseeker’s and Supplementary Welfare Allowance recipients was reduced from 15 to 12 months with effect from September 2022, again enabling more people to qualify for the support.
The recently announced Electricity Costs Emergency Benefit Payment is a key measure being developed by the Government to help mitigate the effects of the recent unprecedented rise in electricity prices. The scheme, under the auspices of the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and supervised by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities will be paid in addition to the gas and electricity element of the HHB package to qualifying households. Approximately 2.1m households will benefit by €100 each from the new scheme. Primary and secondary legislation will be required and it is expected that payments will begin in Quarter 1 2022.
The Minister added that provision of income support is only part of the answer in terms of addressing energy costs. One of the best ways to tackle energy costs in the long term is to improve the energy efficiency of the dwelling through proper building and household insulation. This is the responsibility of the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The SEAI provides a range of schemes in this area including the Better Energy Homes scheme, the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme, the Better Energy Warmth & Wellbeing Pilot Scheme, the Deep Retrofit Pilot Scheme, Better Energy Communities and Free Energy Efficiency Upgrades (co-funded by the Irish Government and European Union and delivered by the SEAI).
Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, exceptional needs payments may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which customers are unable to meet out of their own resources, and this may include help towards the cost of utility bills. Decisions on such payments are made on a case-by-case basis.