Community Law & Mediation’s Centre for Environmental Justice welcomes long-overdue Energy Poverty Action Plan, but warns that significant gaps remain 

December 21, 2022

Amidst climate and energy crises, the long-overdue Energy Poverty Action Plan fails to deliver on what is required to eradicate energy poverty. 

21st December 2022: Community Law & Mediation’s (CLM) Centre for Environmental Justice welcome the long-awaited Energy Poverty Action Plan, in particular the establishment of a cross-departmental Energy Poverty Steering Group, a €10 million fund to safeguard energy vulnerable households, and the commitment to expand the definition of “vulnerable customer” to include financially vulnerable. However, the Energy Poverty Action Plan, which is almost four years overdue, fails to deliver the long-term planning and commitment required to eradicate energy poverty. 

Community Law & Mediation highlight significant weaknesses in the Energy Poverty Action Plan: 

  • Lack of Legal Accountability: the Plan contains no enforceable, measurable, and time-bound targets against which progress can be measured. It is not placed on statutory footing to ensure a genuinely whole-of-government approach. While Minister Eamon Ryan has warned that the energy poverty crisis could last another two years,1 no information is provided as to when a replacement Plan will be developed. The lack of legal safeguards undermines accountability and long-term political commitment towards the eradication of energy poverty. 
  • Insufficient Short-Term Measures: Measures contained in the Plan to alleviate energy poverty through Winter 2022 and 2023, while welcome, do not go far enough. There is no permanent increase in the weekly Fuel Allowance rate, and no expansion of the Fuel Allowance Scheme to include those on the Working Family Payment or those on Jobseekers Allowance for less than one year. Furthermore, the provision of electricity credit (as already announced under Budget 2023) has been critiqued as an untargeted and inefficient route to support those most impacted by the significant increases in energy costs.2 
  • Private Rental Sector: While the provision of low-cost loans and tax incentives to small landlords to undertake retrofitting – while tenants remain in Situ – represent welcome first steps towards tackling energy inefficiency in the private rental sector, Community Law & Mediation call upon the Department to develop a tailored retrofit plan for the private rental sector, with clear milestones, targets and funding. 
  • Energy Poverty within the Traveller Community: The Plan does not include targets to address energy poverty within the Traveller community who are disproportionately impacted by energy poverty.  
  • Reaching Vulnerable Energy Users: Community Energy Advisors to reach vulnerable energy users will not be deployed, despite recognition in the Plan that those most impacted by energy poverty may not be aware of available supports. 

Rose Wall, CEO of Community Law & Mediation, said: “Issues related to energy poverty frequently present at Community Law & Mediation’s free legal advice clinics. 29% of Irish households are now estimated to be living in energy poverty, the highest number ever recorded. However, the Energy Poverty Action Plan will not deliver access to affordable energy for all in the short, medium and long-term. The Plan contains no legally binding targets, and it is not placed on statutory footing, which undermines the stated aim of adopting a “whole-of-government” approach. To ensure accountability and long-term political commitment towards the eradication of energy poverty, an Energy Poverty Act must be delivered in 2023. The adoption of legislation to eradicate energy poverty is essential to both housing and climate justice.” 

Clodagh Daly, Community Law & Mediation’s Centre for Environmental Justice Manager, said: “Ireland has already burned through one-quarter of the 2021-2025 legally binding carbon budget and our emissions continue a rapid upwards trajectory. Almost half (48%) of Ireland’s housing stock is energy inefficient, with poorly insulated homes locked into fossil fuel dependence. Fossil fuels are the root cause of the energy crisis – breaking our dependence and keeping them in the ground is the only way out. The Energy Poverty Action Plan does not provide sufficient support to help households and communities to transition from fossil fuels at the scale and pace required. An Energy Poverty Act must be delivered in 2023 to comprehensively tackle energy poverty and energy pollution.”   

ENDS 

For media queries, please contact Fodhla O’Connell-Grennell, Community Law & Mediation’s Communications Officer, on FOconnell@CommunityLawandMediation.ie or 087 054 2015 

Editor Notes: 

Scotland’s Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Act 2019 includes the following provisions, by way of example: 

  1. A new definition and measurement framework for fuel poverty; 
  1. A legally-binding target to reduce fuel poverty to no more than 5% of households, and that no more than 1% of households should be in extreme fuel poverty, by 2040; (It is our view that a 21-year target is too long, and that Ireland should aim to eradicate energy poverty much sooner than 2040.) 
  1. A duty on Ministers to produce a long-term strategy outlining how delivery of the 2040 target will be achieved; 
  1. A duty on Ministers to produce a monitoring report every 5 years; 
  1. The establishment of an independent fuel poverty advisory panel. 

Community Law & Mediation:  

Community Law & Mediation (CLM), previously known as Coolock Community Law Centre, was established on 1 April 1975, as the first, independent, community-based law centre in Ireland. In 2012, we opened a second community law centre in Limerick.  

CLM works to empower individuals experiencing disadvantages through:  

·        Free legal information, advice and representation;  

·        Free mediation and conflict coaching;  

·        Information and education; and  

·        Advocating for Change  

Centre for Environmental Justice:  

CLM’s Centre for Environmental Justice was launched by Mary Robinson in February 2021 and is the first of its kind in Ireland.  

CEJ offers free legal advice and representation, provides community education and training, and advocates for a rights-based approach to policy and law reform in the area of environmental justice. 

Visit our website for further information: http://clm.docksal/