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Energy poverty in Luxembourg City

QUESTION BY CARLO BACK

In issue 02/2018 of de Konsument published by the Luxembourgish Consumer Protection Association, this organisation draws attention to the
substantial increase in electricity prices. On this same topic, the journal writes that the number of households forced to turn to social services because they can no longer pay their electricity and gas bills has steadily increased in recent years. According to this information, energy poverty is rising in Luxembourg's households.

The college of aldermen mission statement of December 2017 stipulates that "Regular monitoring of the social conditions across the city is necessary in order to adapt our strategy to the actual requirements in the field. The college of aldermen will therefore take the necessary measures to update the statistics it needs in order to implement effective social policy."

In light of the foregoing, I would like to ask the following question:

  • Can the college of aldermen give us information on the current situation of energy poverty in Luxembourg City? How many families/people are affected by this problem? What are the amounts in question? How many litigation cases for non-payment have been brought, and in how many instances has the electricity or gas supply been cut off?
  • Based on this data, how has the situation developed over the last five years?
     

RESPONSE BY ISABEL WISELER-LIMA

Alderwoman Isabel Wiseler-Lima stated that the analysis was conducted on the basis of data provided by the energy providers and Luxembourg City's Office social (Social Welfare Office). The study reveals that in the last few years, a fair number of households had their electricity turned off (137 in 2017 and 150 in 2016), while there was only one instance of the natural gas supply being shut off (2017). Now, these figures, which include situations where the electricity supply was turned off due to people moving house, the death of the occupant or other reasons, must be analysed taking account of the information provided by the Office social.

The Office social offers two types of assistance: emergency non-repayable aid and advances that must be repaid by the beneficiaries.

Using this information, the number of cases for which emergency aid was provided is as follows:

  • In 2013 there were: 11 for electricity and 3 for gas;
  • in 2014: 33 for electricity and 12 for gas,
  • in 2015: 28 for electricity and 3 for gas,
  • in 2016: 23 for electricity and 8 for gas,
  • and in 2017: 25 for electricity and 8 for gas.

Regarding coverage of fees:

  • In 2015 and 2017, the Office social paid the fuel oil fees of just one household.

Recoverable advances – for electricity, gas and fuel oil combined – were paid:

  • in 27 cases in 2013,
  • in 29 cases in 2014 
  • in 37 cases in 2015,
  • in 29 cases in 2016
  • and in 13 cases in 2017.

Hence, based on information obtained by the Office social, barring rare exceptions, people in need are eligible either for emergency aid or for advances, but never for both together.

After rising since 2014, the number of people defaulting on their energy bills dropped in 2017 to the same level as in 2013. Moreover, neither electricity nor gas was ever disconnected because of poverty. This is due in particular to the procedures instituted by the legislation to structure the electricity and natural gas markets. After a reminder is sent to the residential customer, the procedures dictate that the Office sociale of the municipality where the customer lives is simultaneously notified of the supplier's intention to disconnect the customer; this way, the Office social can settle the unpaid bills.
It should be noted that
additionally, households that receive cost of living benefits from the National Solidarity Fund (Fonds national de solidarité), also receive solidarity benefits from Luxembourg City of €345 for one person, €435 for two people, €525 for three people, €615 for four people and €706 for five people.

Furthermore, it should also be noted that not only did the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) set up the MyEnergy programme aiming to help households practise good energy management, but Luxembourg City's Office social also selected three households to receive assistance from MyEnergy in 2016. However, four of these households did not follow up on the programme.

Lastly, Ms Wiseler-Lima stressed that social monitoring would be undertaken and is included in the budget for next year.

Small forest in the Mühlenbach district

QUESTION BY DAVID WAGNER

In the wake of the hurricane that swept through Luxembourg in 1990, many forests were severely damaged. The same was true of the small forest located in Mühlenbach between Rue Albert Unden and Rue Mühlenbach.
Although the main damage caused by the hurricane was repaired, the forest remains in rather a poor state. To this day, some trees are so damaged that they are on the verge of falling down. Unfortunately, this means that the forest no longer holds any real appeal to the local residents, and moreover, cannot be used as a recreational area for children. This is all the more deplorable in view of the fact that the forest immediately adjoins a children's play area.

In light of the foregoing, I would like to ask you the following questions:

  • Is the City of Luxembourg aware of the condition of this forest?
  • Is the City planning to restore the forest to make it usable again?
     

RESPONSE BY PATRICK GOLDSCHMIDT

First, it should be noted that the Nature Conservation Agency (Administration de la Nature et des Forêts) is responsible for managing Luxembourg City's forests and that if a tree must be cut down, the agency must provide prior consent at the recommendation of the forester in charge.

However, Mr Goldschmidt also noted that the existing problem is due to bark beetles, not to the storm. This situation will be rectified, but it should be mentioned that the machines needed to perform the work will have to go through the adjacent playground.

Face covering

QUESTION BY CLAUDINE KONSBRUCK

Article 49 of the City of Luxembourg's general regulations on public order and safety (règlement général de police) bans face covering in public. The law making it an offence to cover one's face in certain public places was passed on first reading by Parliament on 3 May 2018 and will soon be published in the official gazette of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
This law prohibits covering part or all of one's face in certain public places, such as public transport, schools, hospitals, buildings of judiciary authorities, etc.

  • Are the general regulations on public order and safety affected by the entry into force of this law?
  • If so, does the college of aldermen intend to adjust Article 49 of the general regulations on public order and safety?
     

RESPONSE BY LYDIE POLFER

The mayor stated that when the draft law on municipal administrative sanctions is voted on, the general regulations on public order and safety will need to be amended regardless, so it would be appropriate to wait until then, should an amendment be necessary with regard to face covering.  However, there is currently no contradiction between the aforementioned law of 25 May 2018 and the general regulations on public order and safety. According to a circular by the Minister of Home Affairs dated 14 June 2018, the scopes of the prohibitions on face covering are different depending on whether the law is written by the national government or the municipal authority, so these bans may exist in parallel. Article 49 of the City's general regulations on public order and safety actually goes further than the law. At this stage, it should be noted that through a decision issued on 11 July 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the ban on face covering in public did not violate the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Parking permits for work purposes

Question by Sam Tanson

The City of Esch/Alzette decided during its municipal council meeting of 15 June 2018 to reduce the number of business parking permits, which is currently 970. After this, the prices rose.

The statement of the college of aldermen of the City of Luxembourg includes the following: "A comprehensive study on parking in the city will be undertaken. This study will look at road-side parking, surface parking and parking garages, and the rates charged. The terms and conditions for granting business parking permits, and the fees charged for such permits, will be examined."

I would now like to ask the college of aldermen the following questions:

  • Is the study on parking currently in progress? If so, when will the results be presented to the transport committee?
  • How many business parking permits have been issued by the City of Luxembourg?
  • Is there a plan to raise the fees?
     

Response by Patrick Goldschmidt

As the studies on parking are still ongoing, no results are yet available that could be shared with the transport committee.

There are plans to review the regulations on residential parking permits, in terms of both sector and duration, and individual parking in above-ground car parks and parking structures will be re-examined. We also need to reassess the principles governing parking permits for certain professions. However, it should be noted that in 2017, the number of business parking permits issued fell by 600 compared to 2016.

Student salaries

Question by Christa Brömmel

For activities organised during school holidays, particularly those run by the Service Sports (Sport Department) and CAPEL (Luxembourg City's Centre for Learning and Leisure Activities), the City regularly hires students. A service hire contract between the student and the City of Luxembourg sets the amount of remuneration, which varies based on the student's age and qualifications, and whether they hold a Youth Coordinator A, B or C certificate.
The skills these young people have acquired in their free time, which qualify them to provide better supervision services, are therefore given consideration. However, contracts differ depending on the department: students working at CAPEL may claim their C certificate and are therefore paid based on their credentials, whereas the Service Sports does not take this into account.

In accordance with article 9 of the rules of procedure of the municipal council, I would like to put the following question to the college of aldermen:

  • How can the municipal authorities justify the fact that different approaches are applied for remunerating students by two municipal departments?
  • Don't the municipal authorities deem it important to encourage the most highly qualified students to apply for jobs working with children participating in holiday activities (e.g. camps, outings, activities, etc.)?
  • If so, shouldn't the municipal authorities guarantee that these young people's credentials are properly recognised in a manner that is fair to all, regardless of the department that hires them?
  • Do the municipal authorities plan to ask the departments hiring students to transparently and consistently abide by the pay scale established by the Human Resources Department?
     

Response by Lydie Polfer

The mayor stressed that all the jobs working with children participating in holiday activities are advertised and the required certificate is specified, so that there is total transparency.
Students who lack special training or who perform manual labour receive remuneration equal to 80% of the social minimum wage for unskilled workers. For positions supervising children, there are two training courses: Youth Coordinator B and Youth Coordinator C. Youth Coordinator B training is required to assist a supervisor during a residential activity that takes place over several consecutive days, and to work with other coordinators to plan and lead a residential activity lasting a maximum of three days for an organised group. Youth Coordinator C training is required to organise and lead a residential activity and manage a team of coordinators who regularly lead activities; this training focuses on leading a group of children.
The remuneration for performing these duties was determined by the municipal council with its decision dated 19 April 2010 and was shared with the departments through a circular. This remuneration is set out as follows: 80% of the social minimum wage for unskilled workers for students without specific training; 90% of the social minimum wage for unskilled workers for students with a Youth Coordinator B certificate; and 100% of the social minimum wage for unskilled workers for group supervisors with a Youth Coordinator C certificate.

The various departments – notably CAPEL and the Service Sports – review the composition of each group working with children. For example, for CAPEL, students who hold a Youth Coordinator B certificate receive remuneration corresponding to 90% of the social minimum wage for unskilled workers, while students who hold the Youth Coordinator C certificate receive compensation equal to 100% of the social minimum wage for unskilled workers. The Youth Coordinator C certificate is an advantage, but not a requirement for holding a leadership position.

Payment is tied to the type of certificate the students have and the actual job they hold; the C certificate on its own does not automatically entitle the holder to remuneration equal to 100% of the social minimum wage for unskilled workers. Nevertheless, if specific cases of unjustified wage differentiation were to be identified, these cases should be reported and reviewed.

Artificial turf football pitches

Question by Roy Reding

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire dans l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail –ANSES) has been tasked, by the French authorities, to assess the health risks for children and particularly for those who frequently play sports on pitches with artificial turf, focusing on "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons", which are often found in the materials used on such pitches.
In follow-up to this, the ministries for health and sport (Ministères de la Santé et des Sports) tested one-third of the pitches in the country with artificial turf. No health hazards were found.

In light of this action taken by the French authorities, and because among the people involved in football, some have reported their concerns and apprehensions about health issues connected to the use of artificial pitches, I would like to ask the following questions:

  • How many pitches with artificial turf are there in Luxembourg City?
  • What granulate do they use?
  • Does Luxembourg City perform regular inspections to analyse the toxicity of the materials used? If it does, do the results of these tests also show that there is no health hazard?
  • As a precaution in the face of the potential risks, would it not be more judicious to avoid laying any more pitches with artificial surfaces instead of natural pitches? This question is all the more pertinent because nowadays, natural pitches can easily be maintained with robotic mowers, or otherwise, jobs could perhaps be created for this purpose.
     

Response by Simone Beissel

In 2017, the Ministry of Health conducted tests on all pitches with artificial turf in Luxembourg City, and found that none of these contained substances that are known to be hazardous to human health. Luxembourg City has 12 pitches with artificial turf, 7 of which contain granulate and 5 of which do not, and 11 pitches with natural turf. The granulates used are either coated SBR (rubber granulate coated with a layer of PU or acrylic resin) or TPE (thermoplastic elastomers), and in light of the results of the tests, regular inspections are not carried out.

Regarding the application of a precautionary approach, it should be noted that all the football clubs have asked for access to pitches with artificial turf specifically because these pitches may be used all year round with no limit on capacity. In addition, maintenance is much higher for a pitch with natural turf than one with an artificial surface.
Having only natural turf pitches would deprive most clubs of their current training facilities, so at this point, it would seem more appropriate to keep the artificial turf pitches.