New Bill aims to help pensioners beat soaring winter heating costs

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
A Bill aimed at helping pensioners, who are not connected to the mains gas grid, meet soaring energy costs has been published.
 
The Private Members Bill, sponsored by SNP MP Mike Weir, would allow the payment of winter fuel allowance to be made earlier in the year to those pensioners whose homes are not on the gas grid, and whose principal source of fuel is home fuel oil, liquid petroleum gas or propane gas.

According to Mr Weir, this would allow them to fill up their tanks before the onset of winter when prices tend to be cheaper and also to avoid delivery difficulties in adverse winter conditions.

Off grid households do not benefit from special tariffs available to help ‘mains’ energy customers, nor are they able to follow UK Government advice to “switch” suppliers since a virtual monopoly exists in many areas.

Mr Weir – one of just 20 MPs successful in a ballot to present a Bill in the House of Commons – revealed that the Bill (the Winter Fuel Allowance Payments [Off-Grid Claimants] Bill) has already secured cross-party support – with Tory, Liberal Democrat, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Democratic Unionist and SDLP MPs listed as supporters.

Commenting, Mr Weir who is the SNP Energy and Climate Change spokesperson at Westminster, said:

“The cross-party and cross country backing for this bill show that there is widespread support for action to help fuel poor pensioners whose homes are not connected to the mains gas grid.  This is as much a problem in Cornwall as it is in Caithness.

“There is clear evidence that the price of home fuel oil rises rapidly from October through the winter until it begins to fall again in the spring.   At present winter fuel allowances are paid out in December, which tends to be when prices are high.

“For those who pay quarterly energy bills this is less of a problem but for those who have to pay upfront to have their tanks filled it means that they have to pay out to fill their tanks for the winter before they get the money.

According to a survey published last September by consumer group Consumer Focus, in Britain, 3.9 million households do not have gas heating, with rural consumers more likely to use non-mains gas heating fuels.  

Heating oil is used to heat 34 per cent of remote rural homes in England, 46 per cent of remote rural homes in Wales and 32 per cent of rural homes in Scotland.  Fuel poverty is much higher among consumers of non-gas heating fuels than it is among gas heating consumers in all three countries.

Mr Weir added:

“My bill would provide a simple change that means that pensioners could receive their winter fuel allowance earlier to allow the tank to be fully filled prior to the usual winter price rises.  It would give such households the comfort of knowing that they would be going into the winter with a full tank.

“It would also mean that, if we experience very bad weather, as happened two years ago, they would not face the difficulties that can occur with deliveries of fresh supplies.  In my constituency, for example, many off grid consumers could not get supplies delivered through the heavy snow.

“The heating oil market is subject to sudden and very high price spikes and there is real concern amongst consumers that there is very little competition in the market, leaving them effectively with no option but to pay up.

“Off-grid users are the only customers not to have access to reduced tariffs and a large number of the rural fuel poor are unable to get help with heating bills at all.  It is vital that this situation is addressed, and action taken to introduce robust regulation to protect consumers.

“The changes proposed in this bill do not tackle all the problems faced by off-grid customers, but the action I am proposing would deliver practical and significant support to a particularly vulnerable group who deserve help.”

Mr Weir’s bill has won support from MP’s across the political parties:

  • Hywel Williams MP (Plaid Cymru)
  • Nigel Dodds MP (DUP)
  • Sarah Newton MP (Conservative)
  • Albert Owen MP (Labour)
  • Alan Reid MP (Liberal Democrat)
  • Margaret Ritchie MP (SDLP)
  • Sir Robert Smith MP (Liberal Democrat)
  • Angus MacNeil MP (SNP)
  • Katy Clark MP (Labour)
  • Therese Coffey MP (Conservative)