Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Citizens Advice Support for Off-Grid Energy Bill

A Private Member’s Bill which would help off-grid pensioner households beat soaring winter energy costs has received a major endorsement from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

The bill, which receives its second reading on 7 September, would bring forward payment of winter fuel allowance to pensioners, whose homes are not on the gas grid, to 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.

Adding their support for the bill, a spokesperson for CAB said:

"Citizens Advice supports the aims of this Bill. People who are not connected to the gas grid, and therefore rely on heating oil or LPG to keep their homes warm in the winter have to pay for their fuel in bulk and up front.

"Our evidence shows that people on low incomes, including the elderly, can find it very difficult, or in some cases impossible, to afford to fill up their tanks ahead of winter. As Professor Hills' Fuel Poverty Review acknowledged, cold homes can have a devastating impact on the health and well-being of those in fuel poverty.

"Receiving the Winter Fuel Payment early would help those pensioners who live in off-grid homes to top up their tank and keep warm and healthy through the winter.

The SNP MP behind the bill, Mike Weir, welcomed CAB’s endorsement. The proposal has already secured cross-party support – with Tory, Liberal Democrat, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Democratic Unionist and SDLP MPs listed as supporters.

Mr Weir said:

“As the leading provider of independent and impartial advice, the support of Citizens Advice for this bill is a major boost. The cross-party and cross country backing for this bill shows 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.

“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.”
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