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Gypsies and Travellers fear missing out on energy bills support

The Guardian logo The Guardian 30/08/2022 Clea Skopeliti
Photograph: David Burton/Alamy © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: David Burton/Alamy

Gypsy and Traveller groups are calling on the government to ensure thousands of households living in park homes are not excluded from its energy bills support scheme this winter as bills soar.

The scheme will pay out a total of £400 to all households in Great Britain with a domestic electricity connection between October and March, with monthly payments administered by their energy supplier.

Thousands of Gypsy and Traveller households live on sites, owned privately or by a local authority, where most do not have their own domestic electricity contract. The charity Friends, Families and Travellers warned they would not qualify for the scheme under its current provisions, as residents pay the site owner for energy.

There are also concerns that people living in roadside camps and houseboats who rely on gas cylinders and fuel-powered generators may miss out on payments as they have no direct contract with an energy supplier. They already pay high prices for energy use, with charities reporting that a gas cylinder costs between £70 and £85 and would last between five and seven days in winter for a family of four. Those relying on generators have been hit with dramatic petrol and diesel price rises in the past year.

Emma Wood, who manages and lives on a site in Devon, said she had written to its energy supplier, Scottish Power, to no avail. “They’re saying that it’s nothing to do with them … and only the main meter will receive the grant,” she said, explaining that this would mean 12 households sharing the £400 payment. “The payments are due to start in five weeks’ time and we don’t know whether we’re going to get anything.”

The site’s 18 residents, who are Roma and New Travellers, live in static caravans. “It’s a bit different from living in bricks and mortar … it’s like living in a tin box – if it gets cold, it gets cold,” Wood said. “We need to be able to heat it.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said further support equivalent to the £400 payment would be made available for those living in a park home, houseboat, and energy consumers living off the grid. It previously said an announcement on this would be made in the autumn and did not provide further comment.

Abbie Kirkby, the public affairs and policy manager at Friends, Families and Travellers, called for the government to outline how it would ensure households not living in bricks and mortar housing would be included, saying there is “absolutely no guarantee” that everyone will be covered by the government’s extension.

The charity said it had not received a response to its letter earlier this month asking BEIS to meet community representatives and organisations to help develop an inclusive scheme.

Kirkby said: “Gypsies and Travellers living on sites have long paid disproportionate prices for energy, with little choice over energy provider or tariffs and frequently having to pay additional handling changes for accessing energy. However, because of the way the government support packages for energy bills are designed, many are excluded from these desperately needed means of support.

“On many Gypsy and Traveller sites, including local authority sites, the site owner is the energy account holder meaning individual households do not receive the £400 grant as part of the energy bills support scheme. It is the equivalent of a local authority controlling the energy contract for a block of flats and only receiving one single £400 energy grant for all of the households in it – it is completely unjust to exclude individuals and families in this way.”

She called on the government to work with the sector to ensure no one was excluded, saying: “In the face of the crippling cost of living crisis and energy prices spiralling out of control, it is crucial that families who are at greater risk of experiencing fuel poverty are included in support packages.”

Wood said the government urgently needed to set out plans to help households like hers. “Everybody else is getting their payments in bricks and mortar. Park homes are left behind … we’re all entitled to it, we all pay council tax, rent, everything. I think it’s wrong the government hasn’t crossed the Ts and dotted the Is.”


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