Irish households still being left out in the cold

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Friends of the Earth Research - Government’s new climate and energy poverty plans failing to combat both the energy price crisis and household reliance on fossil fuels

**Full report  - can be viewed here**

**Report summary - can be viewed here**

As the Government responds to the three-part energy crisis of affordability, pollution and supply, detailed research commissioned by Friends of the Earth shows what policy changes are necessary to address rising energy poverty[1] while making Irish homes warmer and more energy efficient.

The number of Irish families unable to heat their homes more than doubled in the last 12 months[2] as a result of inadequate incomes, high energy costs due to the energy crisis, and inefficient housing. At the same time, the Government has committed to halving carbon emissions by 2030. This will involve retrofitting 500,000 homes by 2030. However, grants remain skewed to already well-off homeowners, and leave many groups and communities who are most at risk of energy poverty out in the cold.

This research report, based on input from 32 experts across housing, poverty, climate, and energy, unpacks how current climate, housing and social protection policies go some way in protecting vulnerable households, but are ultimately failing to address the root causes of energy deprivation[3]. It also includes an assessment of recent housing, energy and climate policy, including the Government’s new Energy Poverty Action Plan and the latest Climate Action Plan both produced in December 2022. The report also includes a comprehensive analysis of policies and responses related to energy efficiency and home heating.

Clare O’Connor, Energy Policy Officer at Friends of the Earth said: 

“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. 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. 

Retrofitting for low-income families in inefficient housing needs to be a top priority - much more investment is needed in state-led retrofitting programmes so they can reach more families, specifically the SEAI Free Energy Upgrade scheme and the Local Authority Retrofit Scheme for social housing.”

Jerry Mac Evilly, Head of Policy at Friends of the Earth 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. 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. 

The research report shows that a change in approach at all levels of Government is urgently needed to ensure Ireland responds to the climate and energy price crisis in a manner that respects Sustainable Development Goal pledges to ensure “no one will be left behind” and to “reach the furthest behind first.

The report makes several notable findings. These include:

  • Government policy on energy poverty is lacking in scale and ambition; the Government’s broad based electricity credit provides some short-term relief but risks being counterproductive as it does not target resources to those in most need of support and does not respond to fundamental issues of income inadequacy and inability to carry out retrofitting measures.
  • Tenants renting from private landlords are particularly vulnerable to energy poverty as rental accommodation comprises larger numbers of older, low BER dwellings. They also suffer from weak regulation and protection, and do not have control over the level of insulation in their home.
  • There are serious problems with retrofitting/energy efficiency programmes, including waiting lists of up to 3 years for the SEAI’s free energy upgrade scheme, as well as a major labour and skills shortages.
  •  The Government’s retrofit and heat pump targets are not being achieved. The latest Climate Action Plan does not sufficiently address the need for the SEAI and other public agencies to proactively scale up activities and reach out to communities in order to meet retrofitting targets. The Plan also does not explicitly address the necessary phase out of fossil fuel boilers in existing residential buildings. 
  • The ‘poverty premium’ experienced by many at-risk households is poorly understood, including customers being penalised for paying bills in cash, the inability to switch supplier without direct debits, as well as related challenges such as the underreported issue of self-disconnection.

This Friends of the Earth commissioned research lays out the most effective policies needed to positively impact both the planet and vulnerable groups. It makes 49 separate recommendations to Government based on fieldwork, research and analysis across the following areas. These include:

  • The Government should prioritise increasing eligibility for the SEAI free retrofitting scheme, zero interest or low cost loan or other models of financing retrofits, as well as community energy advisors, street-by-street insulation programmes and district heating systems.
  •  A much more ambitious target should be set for the retrofitting of social housing, setting a minimum standard of B2 to be achieved in all social housing by 2030 and increasing investment in the Department of Housing’s social housing retrofit scheme.
  • Regulations for rental properties should be introduced to force landlords to ensure a minimum energy performance standard. This regulation should start with multi-property landlords in 2023. 
  • The Government should consider redesigning the Fuel Allowance to include households who really need it, for example a new year-round payment with eligibility based on household income, as well as on the Building Energy Rating.
  • Core social welfare rates should be increased significantly, by at least €20, and be benchmarked against the cost of living to address the serious problem of inadequate income.
  • The Government should introduce an Energy Poverty Act that defines energy poverty, sets legally-binding targets for reducing energy poverty, and sets up an independent energy poverty advisory council.
  • The Government should consider providing free or subsidised BER assessments to lower income households, as a way of encouraging households to act on their level of energy consumption.
  • Narrow definitions of energy poverty that solely focus on household energy expenditure should be avoided in favour of an approach that recognises the intersection of energy poverty, energy deprivation, income inadequacy, housing inadequacy and health effects.
  • The role of the CRU and other relevant public bodies must be reformed to ensure that they are optimally supporting the aims of emissions reductions and energy poverty reduction.
  • A Just Transition Commission should be established to give greater public awareness to the State’s commitment to integrating social justice with climate action.



  1.  Where  households can only meet their energy needs by expanding a large proportion (>10%) of their income, they are currently defined in Ireland as being in energy poverty, and thereby at risk of deprivation in other areas of basic needs. 
  2. SVP, Warm Safe Connected (2023)
  3. Those who are unable to meet their basic needs for energy consumption are said to be experiencing energy deprivation. For further information, see section on ‘Measuring energy poverty, deprivation and excess winter mortality’ in Chapter 3.


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