Thousands at risk of fuel poverty after delays to Welsh Government ‘Warm Homes’ scheme
Thousands of households could be plunged into fuel poverty this winter after a Welsh Government scheme was plagued by delays, the Senedd heard.
Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru’s shadow climate minister, raised concerns about the new Warm Homes programme potentially being delayed until 2024.
She told MSs: “That will leave thousands of households cold throughout the winter, in fuel poverty or pushed further into debt because of heating costs and low energy efficiency.
“This is condemning people to the cold, with disastrous effects for human health and well-being, household budgets and the environment.”
The revamped Warm Homes programme, which was due to launch in April 2023, offers advice and support on how to improve energy efficiency, aiming to tackle fuel poverty.
Julie James told the Senedd that the programme is currently out to tender after delays due to “arcane” procurement rules following Brexit.
She said: “If the person who wins it is able to start immediately then we’ll start immediately; if the person who wins it needs a ramp-up time, we’ll have to take that into account.”
The climate minister stressed that the Nest scheme, which can help with free energy improvements such as a new boiler, has been extended to March as a precaution.
Ms Jewell said Wales has some of the oldest least energy-efficient housing in Europe, adding: “It’s going to take a lot of effort and resource to bring houses up to standard.”
Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader said there are concerns that the programme will not be at the necessary scale nor pace to ensure everyone can live in warm, energy-efficient homes.
Ms James told MSs that the Welsh Government is trying to find the sweet spot between making an existing boiler more efficient and replacing it with a decarbonised system.
During climate questions on Wednesday November 29, the minister said the new programme will be more flexible.
She explained: “If we have a neighbourhood where a street is quite clearly in need of upgrade but there are two people in that street who are not eligible for the programme for various reasons, that won’t be a prohibition for doing it. It would’ve been before.”
Mark Isherwood raised concerns about delays to the Warm Homes programme during first minister’s questions on Tuesday November 28.
The Conservative MS for North Wales said: “Given that December is now around the corner and the coldest months are fast approaching, there’s growing concern that the new programme will not be implemented until next year.
Mark Drakeford told MSs that he expects the Warm Homes programme to be implemented by the end of the financial year in early April 2024.
Siân Gwenllian raised concerns about Arbed – an energy efficiency scheme in targeted areas, which has now closed.
The Plaid Cymru MS said households in her Arfon constituency are facing a winter of worry.
She told MSs: “These are residents who have to live with inadequate external wall insulation and all kinds of problems have arisen because of that, and no way to pay for their own remediation work and nowhere to turn for support.”
Ms James recognised that some companies under the scheme have gone out of business and others are in financial trouble.
Sam Rowlands, a Conservative MS, who represents North Wales, asked about lessons learned from the Arbed scheme for future programmes.
Ms James told MSs that independent quality assurance and sub-contractor performance management measures have been included in the Warm Homes programme.
She said a route for redress will be in place for anything that goes wrong in the new scheme.
By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
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