A number of posts shared on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) have claimed that the government’s proposed Energy Bill will result in people being fined up to £15,000 or sent to prison.
While not all of the posts specify exactly what they claim the fines and prison terms would be issued for, some have suggested it would apply to people who don’t comply with “Net Zero” targets.
As others have pointed out, including Conservative party deputy chair Lee Anderson MP, this isn’t correct, and the government has confirmed that the Energy Bill will not create any new criminal offences.
False or misleading claims about the impact of new legislation can cause confusion, and have the potential to affect people’s opinions of the government or how they choose to vote. We often see these types of claims spread widely online.
The Energy Bill is a piece of proposed government legislation currently being considered in Parliament. The government says the bill “will deliver a cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy system for the long term”.
Many of the social media posts cite a clause in the bill which sets out the government’s ability to establish “sanctions” in order to enforce any “energy performance regulations” which may be established.
The clause states that these sanctions may include “the imposition of civil penalties” (fines) not exceeding £15,000 and the “the creation of criminal offences” punishable with a maximum prison term of 12 months, or a fine up to level five on the standard scale (an unlimited fine).
This clause appears to have been widely misunderstood. While, if passed, the bill would give the government the power to establish such offences and set out fines and prison terms, the bill itself does not create any new offences, and it will not result in people facing fines or being sent to prison for failing to comply with existing regulations.
A government spokesperson told Full Fact: “We have no plans to create new criminal offences and any suggestion otherwise is untrue.”
This was also confirmed by energy minister Andrew Bowie, who said in Parliament on 5 September, “I can categorically guarantee before the House that we are not creating new offences. In any case, any new offences on anything—as is always the case—would have to be subject to debate, scrutiny and vote in this place”.
The Energy Bill, or the Energy Act as it will be known once it is passed, is primary legislation—that is, legislation agreed by Parliament which creates new law or changes existing law.
Some bills or acts do not provide the full details of the new or amended law, but instead create powers for government ministers to enact these details through secondary legislation. Any new offences created using the powers set out in the Energy Bill, once passed, would be passed using secondary legislation, which usually takes the form of a statutory instrument.
So while it’s not impossible that a government may at some point in the future decide to use the powers set out in the Energy Bill to create offences or penalties relating to energy performance regulations, the bill itself does no such thing.
Image courtesy of Sian Wynn-Jones