‘Families who can’t pay energy bills aren’t in a position to invest in expensive retrofitting’

Government needs to take broader view of social and economic factors in households when designing and promoting schemes, says Friends of the Earth

Among the many recommendations made by the report’s authors is the provision of easier access to SEAI grant and loan schemes intended to promote retrofitting. File photograph: Alan Betson

The Government needs to do much more to help those in fuel poverty as it promotes policies intended to reduce carbon emissions, according to a new report commissioned by Friends of the Earth.

The report, based on a wide range of existing materials as well as interviews with representatives of NGOs, academics and others, makes a wide range of recommendations it argues would help those in, or threatened with, fuel poverty as Ireland seeks to meet its climate change obligations.

A key element of the report is the argument that the Government should take greater account of issues like household income and housing conditions when designing policies intended to address climate change through the promotion of energy efficiencies and use of renewables in the home.

It contends that at a time of high energy prices and rising costs in other areas of the economy more than a third of households are currently experiencing fuel poverty – spending more than 10 per cent of income on energy – and require more targeted supports if they to be able to transition away from fossil fuels, benefit from lower-priced alternatives and contribute to the reduction in carbon emissions.


Among the many recommendations made by the report’s authors, Dr Nat O’Connor with Mary A. Murphy, are the provision of easier access to SEAI grant and loan schemes intended to promote retrofitting, measures to ensure customers unable to engage with energy companies online or who need to pay for their usage in cash are not penalised, and legislation to guarantee revenue from carbon taxes is ring-fenced to help fund a just transition.

The report argues that with Ireland currently at risk of missing its climate change targets in a variety of areas, a collective response on a par with that devoted to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic is required. Instead, it says, Government policy on energy poverty is currently “lacking in scale and ambition, with a greater focus on crisis response that prioritises short-term fixes over long-term solutions”. Many current policies are, it adds, “overly market-focused”.

It points to those in private rented accommodation as often finding themselves in particular difficulty as they are unable to control issues like the level of insulation in a property. The report recommends improved tax breaks for landlords to incentivise improvements such as retrofitting by owners but also the setting and adequate enforcement of minimum standards.

“This research shows that if the Government is serious about meeting their climate targets they will need to change their current approach and do it in a way that protects and prioritises households that are most in need first,” said Clare O’Connor, energy policy officer at Friends of the Earth.

“Families who can’t afford to pay their energy bills aren’t in a position to invest in expensive retrofitting measures. The report shows how the Government should be going much further to make sure these families have access to the benefits of warm homes and lower energy bills,” she said.

“Ireland does not have sufficient safeguards to protect against price volatility as a result of the heavy role of polluting fossil fuels, like gas and oil, in home heating and in Ireland’s energy mix,” said the head of policy at Friends of the Earth Jerry Mac Evilly.

“While warmer months may now offer a temporary reprieve for some there is a major risk that the situation will deteriorate later in 2023 given high inflation and continued high energy costs. It’s clear that household fossil fuel dependence cannot be allowed to continue.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times