When the Chancellor announced that all UK households would get £400 towards their energy bills this autumn to help ease the current cost of living crisis, it was not mentioned that many thousands of park home residents would miss out under the new-fangled Energy Bills Support Scheme. We examine how residential park home owners appear to have fallen through the cracks in a hastily conceived initiative… and what PH&HL can do to help you get energy justice!
We’re currently living through the worst cost of living crisis in more than four decades. And it’s only getting worse. A whole host of economic pressures have come to pass during the same period of time, creating an unwanted ‘perfect storm’ of problems for the general public and businesses alike. The fallout from Brexit and the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic played havoc with existing supply chains, creating steady but just-about-manageable inflationary pressures. The war in Ukraine turbo-charged things.
For context, in March 2021, the Retail Prices Index (RPI) figure –the metric used for calculating park home owners’ annual pitch fee increases – stood at a meagre 1.5 per cent. In May 2022, that number sky-rocketed to a whopping 11.7 per cent.
But on the energy front, things are looking a whole lot worse. Even before Putin’s war on Ukraine, the effects of the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak had led to inflationary pressures in the energy sector. Since the summer of 2021, more than 30 energy suppliers have gone bust – mainly because of substantial rises in wholesale energy prices.
This has forced Ofgem, the UK body that regulates gas and electricity prices and, crucially, sets the price cap, to increase the cap’s ceiling, consequently increasing what we pay for our energy. After the price cap rose in October 2021, consumer prices for gas and electricity rose by around 11 per cent. The price cap was ‘reviewed’ again in April 2022… and guess what? Combined gas and electricity charges went up by a staggering 54 per cent. When the price cap increases again this October, some analysts are predicting a further 46 per cent hike for consumers. That equates to something like an average annual fuel bill of £2,879!
Something had to be done. While governments around the globe blamed inflationary pressures beyond their control, Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley stated that the number of UK residents in fuel poverty could soon double to 12 million. (A household is officially in fuel poverty when it spends ten per cent of its disposable income on energy.)
So, after splurging billions on the furlough scheme during the pandemic, the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak once again got out his/the taxpayers’ chequebook, announcing that ‘all UK households’ will get a grant that will reduce energy bills by £400 from October. Previously, he’d said £200 would be knocked off everyone’s energy bills, but would have to be paid back in instalments over five years. Now, suddenly, the discount had doubled and, from October everybody’s fuel bills would be reduced by £400. Or would they?
For many thousands of park home owners, the news had a sting in the tail. Those park home owners who are not billed directly, but instead get an electricity bill via their site owner, look set to miss out on Rishi’s giveaway entirely – just because they do not receive individual bills.
Bizarrely, owing to a clear anomaly in the way the system has been designed, you could have a situation where a site of 1,000 residents sees not one park home owner receive the £400 payment this autumn!
Park home owners are often older people, often retired, and often on fixed incomes – and, with inflation running at 11.7 per cent, they are some of those hit hardest by these regressive energy charge hikes. Some are also very old, vulnerable and confused – the very reason they moved to a park in the first place was to strip away life’s stresses and complications.
End energy apartheid!
At PH&HL, we believe this ‘energy apartheid’ is grossly unfair and iniquitous. Editor Alex Melvin said: ‘As a relatively small-in-number group, park home residents regularly get ignored by the Government of the day as they’re often not deemed sufficiently voteworthy.
‘But even if you don’t live in a park home, we all have older relatives and we’ll all be old ourselves one day – is this how our most needy should be treated?’
We are not alone in these sentiments – quite the contrary. Our industry has reacted with fury to the Chancellor’s plans.
In fact, the owner of Wyldecrest Parks – Europe’s largest residential park site operator – has even launched a petition to Parliament in a bid to get all park home owners included the grant scheme.
The petition – which can be signed at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/617700 – currently boasts almost 6,000 signatories. At 10,000, the Government will be forced to respond.
As well as his petition, Alfie has also ‘put his head above the parapet’ for park home owners, using his status to good effect by appearing on Nigel Farage’s GB News programme to raise awareness of the issue.
In an interview with PH&HL, Alfie added: ‘It is wholly unfair to exclude a whole style of living – primarily practised by the over-55s – from any help whatsoever with universal fuel bills.
‘It is doubly so when we know that those with second homes – many of them empty – are being paid twice!
‘We have been trying to resolve the inbalance between the Energy Price Cap and the Maximum Resale Price Provision and other benefits not open to mobile home owners. My estates director, David Sunderland met with Louise van Rensburg, head of non-domestic retail policy in Ofgem who has stated that this change in policy is a matter for Government.
‘The situation has become worse now as no action was taken since we first took this up with the Energy Minister last year. Mobile home residents do not qualify for the £400 energy allowance; many residents are pensioners, vulnerable and on low incomes and among the most needy that the Chancellor earmarked this for.
‘We are hoping that the Government will not only grasp the issue but do something about it.’
PH&HL contacted the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for a comment. A Government spokesperson said: ‘We are working closely with consumer groups and suppliers to ensure as many people as possible can access the £400 energy support payment, including exploring alternative payment options for those living in park homes. We will publish a response to our consultation on this later in the summer.’
The Government spokesperson also urged park home owners to apply to fund administrator Charis for a £140 grant – the equivalent of the Warm Home Discount rebate value. Charis gets funding from energy suppliers under the industry initiatives element of Warm Home Discount. Currently, mobile home owners are eligible for support through the Energy Company Obligation, the Sustainable Warmth scheme, and the Local Authority Delivery Scheme. Over 2020/21, 3,062 park home residents received £140 energy bill assistance.
Father of the House and park home residents’ friend, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, spoke in Parliament about the £400 energy grant and park home residents, directing his views to the then Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, who then agreed he would speak with Sir Peter. On top of this, Sir Peter sent the below letter to Secretary of State for Energy, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, copying in the then Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, and the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP.
On the plus side….
1. Park homes are lower maintenance and cheaper to heat than their bricks and mortar equivalents as they’re often smaller in footprint and much better insulated under BS: 3632 standards.
2. If your site owner purchases the energy/electricity for the whole site and then distributes it to you, he is almost certainly paying less than regular bricks-and-mortar households as he’ll get a bulk discount that, by law, he is not permitted to pass onto you. (Ofgem, the gas and electricity regulator, ensures that services supplied via a landlord supply are operated and supplied with no profit to the landlord). This bulk purchasing discount can be as much as 25 per cent.
3. Not all park home residents need to worry! If you live on a residential park where individual households each choose their own electricity provider and each receive their own individual electricity bill, you are already eligible for the £400 grant.
4. No need for immediate alarm. As Park Home Owners’ Justice Campaign founder Sonia McColl OBE points out, the Government is aware of the design flaw in the Energy Bills Support Scheme and is currently looking at ways to help park home residents. The grant will not be administered until October so there’s no need to panic at present!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Sign the Wyldecrest petition. Alfie Best’s petition to ensure park home owners receive the £400 fuel allowance, just like all other householders, can be signed at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/617700
At 10,000 signatures, the Government will be forced to respond.
Contact your local MP. Write to your local MP and make them aware of the issue so they can lobby Government on your behalf! If you’re not sure who this is, use the simple search option at: https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP
Write to Greg Clark! As well as contacting your local MP, you should also write to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Greg Clark MP. The more park home residents that do these things, the greater the weight of pressure on the Government becomes to do something about it!
Tell us your stories! Email PH&HL and tell us how the energy bill crisis is affecting you, personally. How will you pay your bills this winter, with or without the £400 grant? Will it be a case of heating or eating? Email: email@example.com.
Sign up here: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/617700
You can read more about this important subject in the August issue of Park Home & Holiday Living