European Commission Energy Poverty Guidelines

Posted on Monday, 29 January 2024
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Paying for the basics
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In 2022 an estimated 40 million people, 9.3% of Europeans, were unable to keep their homes adequately warm, compared to 6.9% in 2021.  The European Commission recently published a series of recommendations to tackle energy poverty which can be adopted by member states as they tackle energy poverty.  A commitment to a fair energy transition for vulnerable citizens is a key commitment in the European Green Deal.  The European Commission notes that households with higher energy needs, which include families with children, persons with disabilities and older persons, are also more susceptible to energy poverty and to its effects. Women, and in particular those who are single parents and older women, are also particularly affected by energy poverty due to structural inequalities in income distribution, socioeconomic status and the gender care gap.


Energy as an essential service

The European Pillar of Social Rights and the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 include energy among the essential services which everyone is entitled to access. Objectives set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals, the European Green Deal, the Council Recommendation on a fair transition and the Commission Recommendations on energy poverty provide a framework to identify energy poverty in Member States through putting emphasis on the principles of access to energy, inclusiveness, fairness and leaving no-one behind. All these principles apply to households affected by energy poverty. Energy is the essential service for which gaps in access are the highest in the EU. 


European Commission Recommendations to Member States on Energy Poverty:

  1. Take swift steps to transpose and implement the definition on energy poverty into national law.
  2. Ensure that the differences between the concepts of vulnerable customers and energy poverty, as well as their complementarities, are duly reflected in policies and measures at national level.
  3. Take advantage of the holistic framework established by the National Energy and Climate Plans to analyse and update the issue of energy poverty and take first steps in the preparation of their Social Climate Plans.
  4. Consider indicators provided at national and EU levels for determining the number of households affected by energy poverty and participate in the surveys as part of the relevant modules of the European statistics on income and living conditions.
  5. Clearly distinguish between structural measures to address energy poverty and measures to improve affordability of energy.
  6. Prioritise effective and well-targeted structural measures to address root causes of energy poverty, when it comes to energy efficiency, building renovation, thermal retrofitting, access to energy efficient appliances and to renewable energy.
  7. Put in place measures to prevent disconnections of consumers affected by energy poverty and vulnerable consumers, through targeted financial support schemes, and actions, in both the short and the long term, comprising among others payment plans and energy efficiency advice, alternative supply contracts or assistance from social services and civil society organisations. To further protect consumers and ensure continuity of supply, Member States should ensure a supplier of last resort.
  8. Ensure coherence across policies, in particular between energy and social policies, and avoid contradicting measures. Member States should include energy poverty into wider and integrated social policies and social justice approaches and apply inclusive and empowering policies, particularly for households affected by energy poverty, tenants, people living in social housing and occupying buildings with the worst energy performance.
  9. Ensure an enhanced governance with a holistic approach to tackle energy poverty involving closer engagement with vulnerable households and relevant energy and social partners and stakeholders.
  10. Consider designating and empowering national energy poverty observatories,
  11. When designing measures and actions that tackle energy poverty, pay particular attention to targeted and tailored communication that builds and avoids stigmatising vulnerable groups.
  12. Step up energy efficiency information campaigns targeting households affected by energy poverty, to ensure that those population groups receive tailor-made information and advice while using all the potential of energy advisory networks and one stop shops.
  13. Take actions to accelerate the renovation rate regarding the buildings with the worst energy performance.
  14. Establish regulatory and social safeguards and analyse the policy mix to ensure that housing costs following energy efficiency improvements or renovations of dwellings do not result in excessive increases in rents and housing costs.
  15. Set up schemes that enable access of households affected by energy poverty to energy efficient household appliances, in order to reduce the energy bills of both tenants and homeowners.
  16. Speed up the deployment of smart metering systems allowing consumers to have timely access to their electricity and gas consumption.
  17. Ensure that households affected by energy poverty are enabled to be part of the decarbonisation gains and a socially just transition.
  18. Enable households affected by energy poverty access to energy sharing schemes among others by removing financial entry barriers for such households and encourage engagement of municipalities in such schemes.
  19. Ensure that policy makers at all levels of administration, as well as energy practitioners and advisors are trained on energy matters, including on topics related to energy poverty.
  20. Roll-out programmes to train front line workers in energy poverty and green energy solutions.
  21. Offer targeted training courses for energy-poor households affected by energy poverty, including those with low digital skills.
  22. Make use of the available Union funding to further tackle energy poverty, through means-tested and tailor-made energy efficiency support schemes and schemes allowing households affected by energy poverty to access collective self-consumption schemes.
  23. Design specific energy efficiency support schemes targeting households affected by energy poverty. Member States should keep in mind that these households cannot afford paying upfront costs of renovation although they would be reimbursed afterwards, and that they do not benefit from tax-related bonuses and deductions as their income tax is minimal.
  24. Support the development and scaling up of innovative financing schemes for renewable energy and energy efficiency actions and schemes dedicated to energy-poor households affected by energy poverty.

Social Justice Ireland view

Ireland’s Energy Poverty Action Plan incorporates some of the actions recommended by the European Commission.  We can address both the financial and environmental costs by making our homes more energy efficient. Energy efficient homes help reduce our carbon footprint as they require less fuel to heat. Despite Government strategies specifically aimed at tackling energy poverty, barriers persist to accessing grants for low income households. These are the households who are most likely to use solid fuels such as coal and peat; the very households that policy should be targeting.  The upfront costs associated with accessing sustainable energy grants can act as a barrier for those on low incomes. Too often subsidies are only taken up by those who can afford to make the necessary investments. Retrofitting is a prime example. As those who need them most often cannot avail of them due to cost, these subsidies are functioning as wealth transfers to those households on higher incomes while the costs (for example carbon taxes) are regressively socialised among all users. 

An upgrade of the national grid must be a key element of infrastructure investment so that communities, cooperatives, farms and individuals can produce renewable energy and sell what they do not use back into the national grid thus becoming self-sustaining and contributing to our national targets.

Incentives and tax structure must look at short and long term costs of different population segments and eliminating energy poverty and protecting people from energy poverty should be a key pillar of any Just Transition platform, A state led retrofitting scheme is required to ensure that people living in social housing and poor quality housing have access. This would increase energy efficiency, reduce bills, improve health outcomes, and assist us in meeting our climate-related targets.

Research by the ESRI has shown that an increase in the carbon tax, as it is currently designed, would hit low income households harder. Therefore, unless there is greater investment in income support, public transport and energy efficiency schemes, low income households will have to absorb these costs as they are unable to afford the switch to climate friendly alternatives. To do this, we need to include all partners in the discussion.

The Citizen’s Assembly when considering ‘How the State can Make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change’ made a series of recommendations on tackling climate change and proposed some innovative solutions for addressing emissions from the Agriculture, Energy and Transport sectors. Social Justice Ireland supports the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly which is an example of positive stakeholder engagement and involvement in addressing a major public policy challenge. 

In order to develop a sustainable society, services and infrastructure must be well-planned and capable of adapting to the changing needs of the population over time.  This means that policy planning and design should, from the very beginning, include potential future changes, and as far as possible should be designed with these in mind.