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Government Failing to Support Off-Mains Households

Alex Cunningham MP | Calor Gas

3 min read Partner content

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham argues that the Government has failed households not connected to the mains gas supply. There are 3,000 of these properties in his own borough

I just don’t know why the current Government has a blind spot when it comes to rural communities and their need for decent housing and homes they can heat at a reasonable cost.

Contrary to what they might think, rural communities are not all pretty villages full of commuters living in expensive cottages – quite the contrary.  Many people living in our rural communities are some of the poorest in society, living on low incomes in homes that are amongst the most expensive to heat and maintain.

It is all the more baffling that some in Government do recognise this – yet don’t appear prepared to ensure they get the support they need.

In the response from the Department for Energy and Climate Change to the Cutting the Cost of Keeping Warm consultation, published this month, the Coalition Government explicitly recognises that homes not connected to the gas mains tend to be amongst the worst in terms of energy efficiency and also reflect some of the greatest need in terms of fuel poverty.

The Government have themselves acknowledged that over 45 per cent of F and G rated homes are non-gas, while the All Party Parliamentary Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency Group has found non-gas homes to be more than twice as likely to be fuel poor as households connected to the gas network.

By the Government’s own admission, more needs to be done to support these households, and the Department’s consultation response boldly declares that an increased focus has been placed on addressing the challenges in this area.

All the more sad, then, that the Government failed yet again to take the opportunity to begin addressing the situation.  When the Department issued £70 million of funding for the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund, just one day after releasing the consultation response, specific support was offered for upgrading condensing boilers in properties connected to the gas mains.  

But not a single penny piece was committed to helping those upgrading oil or LPG boilers in rural areas.

It is astonishing that the Government can attempt to create the illusion of recognising the failure of its policies in one breath, but then neglect to take any action to redress the situation in the next.  Despite unequivocally identifying that “a policy gap has emerged over time” in this area, the Coalition is continually failing to adequately support homes which are hard to heat and require extra assistance to improve energy efficiency and eradicate fuel poverty.

Households around the country that are not connected to the mains gas supply are losing out, with almost 3,000 such properties across the Stockton borough.  These areas contribute far more towards energy efficiency schemes in levies than they receive as support in return, resulting in the absurdity that some of our poorest rural communities are subsidising richer urban and suburban areas.

This debacle exemplifies perfectly the need to better target assistance for the fuel poor and to deliver schemes more efficiently.  A new deal is needed for rural communities – the current Government aren’t utilising even their own schemes to do it.

Labour's proposals to address the needs of the poor in hard to heat homes will deliver for rural communities and, coupled with Labour's energy price freeze to allow bills to go down but not up and powers for the Regulator to cut prices, will make life more comfortable and affordable.

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