Today the Energy Bill will complete its passage through the House of Commons. As well as establishing the Green Deal, the bill also creates the Energy Company Obligation - the purpose of which is to support those who struggle to heat their homes.
In July, uSwitch published research showing that 6.3m homes are paying 10% or more of their household income towards their energy bills. That means almost a quarter of all households (24%) find it difficult to afford their gas and electricity bills.
These figures should be a wake-up call to the nation. Fuel poverty has historically been an abstract concept to most of us. Now it's become a mainstream concern. Most worryingly, the uSwitch figures don't take into account the huge price rises announced over the summer by five out of the 'big six' energy companies. When these rises hit household budgets, well over a quarter could be struggling to stay warm during the winter months.
This issue particularly affects people who rent their homes. There are an estimated 680,000 private rented properties in England with the worst energy efficiency ratings of F and G; over 40 per cent of these households live in fuel poverty.
The vast majority of these homes can be insulated at a relatively low cost. Research by the Energy Saving Trust shows that 37 per cent of F or G rated private rented homes could be improved to a minimum standard of Band E for less than £900, through cheap measures like loft and cavity wall insulation and draught proofing. The overwhelming majority (74%) would cost less than £3500.
The case for introducing a new minimum standard is therefore particularly strong. It is estimated that it could lift 150,000 households out of fuel poverty, cut an average of £488 per year from the energy bill of the homes improved and save 1.87 million tonnes of CO2.
After pressure from Labour in Parliament during earlier stages of the Energy Bill the Government committed to introducing minimum standards in the private rented sector by 2018. While this is a step in the right direction, as it stands, the legislation is still too slow to come into force more than six years away.
The UK has a target of eliminating fuel poverty by 2016. It seems more than sensible then that a minimum standard should come into force in time to contribute to meeting that goal. More importantly the thousands of those who will be left shivering under blankets in order to stay warm this coming winter cannot afford to wait longer.
This problem can be easily rectified. Labour has tabled proposals which would mean that minimum standards would come in to force in 2016. The government should build on the progress that has been made and pass these amendments at report stage.