Pre-Budget Submission 2023
We have identified the following key budgetary priorities arising from the issues coming through our services, and the proposals put forward by partner organisations:
Access to Civil Legal Aid
The right of access to justice is accepted as a constitutional principle and a right under the European Convention on Human Rights, yet many of the people Community Law & Mediation (CLM) assists are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable. In recent months, debt, housing, energy poverty and cost-of-living issues have dominated demand for our free legal advice and advocacy services. While we are aware that these issues will be examined as part of the recently announced review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme, we believe urgent interim measures must be taken to ensure people on low incomes can access legal aid in the face of serious debt and housing problems exacerbated by the cost-of living-crisis.
Immediate [1-3 months]:
- Introduce urgent adjustments to the financial means test to ensure people on low incomes can access legal aid. In the context of increasing rent and other costs, the disposable income threshold and the accommodation cost allowance in particular must be urgently reviewed.
- Ensure the Legal Aid Board is adequately resourced so that waiting times to access legal aid – currently up to 35 weeks in certain parts of the country – can be reduced.
Short-to-medium term [3-12 months]:
- Remove the statutory limitations of the existing Civil Legal Aid scheme, so that people can access legal aid in all areas of law, including housing, debt, social welfare, equality, and employment.
- As part of the recently announced review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme, consider rolling out the Community Law Centre Model in place of existing legal aid structures.
Energy poverty increasingly presents at CLM’s free legal advice and advocacy services as an underlying issue where a person or family is also experiencing housing, debt or employment problems. Access to adequate levels of energy is a precondition to the realisation of many rights impacting our lives, health and living standards. We are calling for the following:
Immediate [1-3 months]:
- Develop a new Energy Poverty Strategy
- Cost-of-living and energy poverty interventions:
- Double the fuel allowance from €33 to €66 and extend the fuel allowance scheme to 32 weeks per year. Broaden the scheme to include those on the Working Family Payment and those receiving Jobseekers payment for less than a year. Target the scheme to reach members of the Traveller community.
- Extend the ban on electricity disconnections during winter until at least Spring 2023.
- Increase social welfare payments by at least €30 per week to protect households from inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, as per the recommendations of Social Justice Ireland.
- Provide a €120 lump sum electricity credit.
- Provide a double social welfare payment similar to the Christmas bonus scheme.
- Remove standing charges on energy bills and ensure all energy providers allocate the lowest energy rate to all their users.
- Impose a windfall tax on energy companies and recycle revenues to support households meet their electricity and gas bills.
- Address housing and energy insecurity in tandem: Re-introduce the ban on evictions and rent freezes until at least Spring 2023. Implement a punitive vacant site and derelict property tax.
- Expand the Warmer Homes scheme to include properties in the private rented sector if the tenant is in receipt of HAP. Remove VAT on labour and materials for retrofitting. End the installation of fossil fuel heating boilers.
- Encourage maximum uptake of public transport across Ireland by making it free of charge. Provide equal access to bicycles and active transport, including 0% VAT on bikes and e-bikes, interest-free loans for cargo and electric bicycles, as per the recommendations of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and CLM.
Short-to-medium term [3-12 months]:
- A rights-based approach: Provide for an appropriate and inclusive public consultation on the new Energy Poverty Strategy, to ensure it is fully poverty and equality proofed
- Place the new Energy Poverty Strategy on a statutory footing to ensure accountability and a whole-of-government approach. Commit to delivering an Energy Poverty Act in 2023.
- Improve data collection on energy poverty, moving beyond ‘the expenditure’ method of measurement, and taking into account the additional financial burden often shouldered by older people, those who live with long-term health conditions, and disabled people.
- National Retrofit Plan: Retrofit Ireland’s entire social housing stock to a B2 standard this decade. Adopt targeted measures to ensure that low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers, and the Traveller community can avail of energy upgrades and SEAI grants, as per the recommendations of Friends of the Earth Ireland.
- Establish local Community Energy Advisors that could work in partnership with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, as per the recommendations of the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
- Introduce an Energy Guarantee Scheme for people in poorly insulated homes and those on low incomes. Age Action recommends that this payment be indexed to the current cost of energy required to keep a person’s home warm based on a set quantity of units (kWh). It is essential that the Fuel Allowance Scheme remains in place (and is broadened) while transitioning to an Energy Guarantee Scheme.
- Ensure that housing costs do not undermine a household’s capacity to meet its energy needs:
- Adopt rent affordability and enforcement mechanisms in line with the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- Establish a landlord registry to enhance tenants’ rights and access to justice.
- Replace the minimum wage with the living wage (66% of the median wage in Ireland) in 2022 in line with trade union recommendations, instead of 2026.
- Regulate energy pricing: Review Ireland’s energy pricing formula to protect communities from future gas and electricity price shocks. Scrap prepayment electricity metres as low-income households may experience difficulties in keeping their meter topped-up and risk disconnection.
- Invest in public transport: Upscale Local Link Services; ensure public transport is disability-inclusive. Introduce a scrappage scheme to trade in an old car for an e-bike or a cargo-bike.
- Cap the level of electricity energy demand that can be accommodated by the grid and place a moratorium on data centre development until this policy is developed as per the recommendations of Not Here Not Anywhere.
- Climate Justice – when tackling energy poverty, prioritisewin-win climate action policies that help address inequality and progressively distribute the financial responsibility for climate mitigation and adaptation measures. Aim to eradicate both energy poverty and energy pollution at the same time, by for example, increasing retrofitting and energy efficiency measures directed at households experiencing energy poverty
- Pass thePlanning and Development (Liquefied Natural Gas – LNG) Amendment Bill into law. Extended reliance on fossil fuels will lock low-income households into high energy costs for decades to come. Ireland’s gas network must not be expanded.