Cost of living crisis: Joyce signposts support for off-grid fuel households

Households who need help with off-grid fuel payments may be eligible for Welsh Government support, says Joyce Watson MS.

The cost of heating oil has spiralled in recent months, affecting around 10% of households in Wales, mostly in rural areas.

At the Senedd on Tuesday (15 March), the Labour Mid and West Wales member said although applications for this year’s Winter Fuel Support scheme are now closed, people experiencing severe financial hardship could still apply for help from the Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF).

Joyce Watson MS said:

“Last week, the average price per litre of heating oil hit £1.55, up from an already high 67p, just a few weeks ago, and that’s around four times higher than the price last March. Even if you can afford it, you’ll be lucky if you can get it. You won’t get a price, and people have to commit to a minimum of 500 litres and an upfront payment.

“A constituent contacted me this week to say that they have enough oil in their tank for 16 days, and after that they’ll have no heating, they’ll have no hot water—a family of four people, including two young children. People are extremely worried.”

“I’m able to signpost people to Welsh Government support, like the discretionary assistance fund, but what would be really useful to have, Minister, is an explanation from Welsh Government of all the help and advice and support.”

Households that heat their homes through off-grid means – oil, wood, coal or bottle gas – and are struggling financially can apply for extra support from DAF. To apply, Welsh residents must contact a support worker, social worker, housing officer, Citizens Advice or other similar professional.

Answering for the government, Trefnydd Lesley Griffiths said Welsh Labour has prioritised support for lowest income households.

Lesley Griffiths MS said:

“We are really facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, and, of course, day-to-day prices are going up as inflation rises – and we know the crisis is going to get worse in April, when the energy price cap increases by more than 50 per cent and the biggest tax rises in almost 30 years will come into force from the UK Government.

“Last month, the Minister for Finance and Local Government announced a £330 million package of measures to assist with tackling the rising cost of living. These matters are reserved to the UK Government, but we have taken action using our limited resources to support households most at risk.

“The winter fuel support scheme ran from October to the end of March and offered a payment of £200 for eligible households. The package that the Minister announced last month will ensure our winter fuel support scheme can be extended to run again next winter to reach more households, and the package of measures also includes a £150 cost-of-living payment to all households in properties in council tax bands A to D and all households that receive support from the council tax reduction scheme.

“We’ve also got the discretionary assistance fund. So, for off-grid customers who are experiencing financial difficulties, that fund has been increased to help support the introduction of winter support for off-grid fuel clients.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, will make his Spring Budget statement next Wednesday (23 March). The Labour Party is calling on him to stop the National Insurance rise and introduce a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers.

Speaking after Senedd question time, Mrs Watson added:

“Even before the Ukraine crisis, inflation was spiralling. The price of petrol, food and energy are soaring. People are worried about the future.

“The Conservatives are choosing to bring in a NICS rise at the worst possible time – it will have an enormous impact on working people and business. It is also deeply unfair, hitting 27 million workers while leaving other forms of income, like buying and selling property, and dealing stocks and shares, untouched.

“By contrast, Labour’s proposal for a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers, which would cut up to £600 off homes energy bills, is a fair way of offsetting the cost-of-living crunch.”