Hundreds of thousands who live off-grid face winter with no energy bill support

UK households without domestic energy supply contract, such as those living in caravans and boats, will not receive £400 in October

While millions of households fear government support for energy bills will not be enough to get them through the cold weather, hundreds of thousands of people who live off-grid are worried they will have no help at all.

The government response to a consultation exercise into the energy bills support scheme (EBSS) , through which households are given £400 towards their bills from October, admitted there was a problem for households without a domestic energy supply contract.

The document from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published on 29 July, states: “Evidence suggests up to 400,000 would not receive EBSS support due to these circumstances compared with approximately 29 million that will.”

Gypsies and Travellers fear missing out on energy bills support and the National Bargee Travellers Association says thousands of “liveaboard” boaters could be locked out of the support payments.

Dan Hooper, an environmental activist nicknamed Swampy, who achieved prominence for his tunnel protest activities, lives off-grid in Tipi Valley, a 200-acre former farm in Wales.

He and others in the community generate sustainable electricity from solar panels supplemented by bottled gas and wood burners for heating in the cold winter months. Bottled gas prices have risen by 40% in the past 12 months.

Dan Hooper, AKA Swampy
Dan Hooper, AKA Swampy, said: ‘Government should not allow the energy companies to charge these extortionate prices.’ Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

“Government should not allow the energy companies to charge these extortionate prices and make so many people miserable while they are making record-breaking profits. It’s all about human greed. We need to consume less,” he said.

He added that while he has some protection because his home is extremely well insulated, “Everyone should get these payments, which could be used to help people get their energy in more sustainable ways such as from solar panels.”

For Terry Green, a Traveller living with members of his family in a caravan park in East Sussex, the energy price hike has come as a “big shock”. He lives in a caravan with his wife. His three children and his grandchildren live in other caravans on the site.

“We’ve lived on this site for four years. It’s one of the best sites I’ve been on and I wake up every morning and thank God when I see my children and grandchildren around me. But when we add up the increased cost of paying our electricity key meter and bottles of gas I don’t know if we can afford it.

“A lot of Travellers will have to go back to the old ways of cooking outside on an open fire. Why should we be forced to do that? We should have equal rights with everyone else. Greed has crept in. It’s ruining the world.”

Friends, Families and Travellers, which supports Gypsy and Traveller communities, has written to ministers highlighting the “astronomically high energy costs” associated with living in mobile homes, caravans and boats.

Mobile home and caravan sites that provide energy for residents on the site are classed as commercial rather than domestic energy users so are not subjected to the energy price cap, making energy even more expensive for people living there.

Nick Brown of the National Bargee Travellers Association said that although about 95% of liveaboard boaters use solar panels to generate electricity most are reliant on petrol or diesel for heating during the winter months.

“At the moment we don’t fall within the scope of the government energy grant. We are encouraging government to include people living off-grid in the scheme. We are getting calls left, right and centre from boaters saying: ‘How am I going to manage?”

Matt Smith, a barber, lives on a boat moored on the canal close to London’s King’s Cross.

“The approach the government has taken to people like us about the energy crisis is pretty disappointing,” he said. “I’ve lived on the boat with my girlfriend for almost two years and it’s fantastic. It’s the best decision we’ve ever made.

“We are both self-employed so when we can’t work because we’re ill we don’t get paid. We will struggle to pay the increased fuel prices to use our burner during the months of December, January and February.

“Many people who live on boats are older people, disabled people and single mothers. They are on very low incomes and will struggle even more than we will. Living on a boat is an environmentally sustainable way to live but it almost seems as if we’re being punished by government for this way of life. We pay our taxes, we are still human beings and we need light and heat like everyone else.”

A government spokesperson said: “Direct support will continue to reach people’s pockets in the weeks and months ahead, targeted at those who need it most like low-incomes households, pensioners and those with disabilities. As part of our £37bn package of help for households, one in four of all UK households will see £1,200 extra support, provided in instalments across the year.”


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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