Written evidence submitted by Amanda Chapman (WIN0002)
I wish to address Question 2 of the Call for Evidence question set: What more could have been done to prevent price shocks being passed to consumer bills?
I live on a canal boat with my partner, who is former Royal Navy and is disabled. We are both retired in receipt of the State Pension and some small private and employers’ pensions.
We do not have a mooring and are classed by the Canal and River Trust as “continuous cruisers.” As such, we were excluded from both versions of the Energy Support Scheme, which meant that the cost of living crisis disproportionately affected us. This was an unfair discrimination, and is my reason for submitting evidence.
People who live on boats and are "continuous cruisers" were specifically excluded from the scheme. This was stated on the gov.uk web site at the time that applications were open, and was flagged as "under review" but nothing ever came of it.
This is despite both the Canal and River Trust (CRT)and the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA ) being in discussions with the government department responsible for administering the scheme. At one point, we were promised a resolution of the difficulties, but we were ultimately disappointed that this did not materialise.
The exclusion is particularly galling, as second home owners automatically received payment for both their homes, while we were unable to receive anything.
It has been suggested that allowing us to apply would have opened up the possibility of fraud, but this would have been miniscule compared with the inequity of denying the payment to all of us.
It should not have been difficult for a suitable application form to be constructed that permitted the Government Department to ascertain from the Canal and River Trust that the claimant was indeed in their continuous cruiser records. A simple tick box would have been sufficient for the applicant to grant that permission.
Cost of making the grant payable to continuous cruisers
CRT records 7,296 licences assigned to continuous cruisers https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/refresh/media/original/48053-boater-census-survey-2022.pdf
The vast majority of these are the sole home of their inhabitants and, compared with the general population, are disproportionately ex-services, disabled, or otherwise vulnerable persons (personal observation over 17 years of boat life).
The total cost to the government would have been in the region of only £2.2million even if the payment had been given to all continuous cruisers.
Disproportionate costs for boat dwellers
The recently published boater "census" https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/refresh/media/original/48053-boater-census-survey-2022.pdf illustrates typical living conditions of liveaboard boaters, but it does not show things like disproportionate costs. I illustrate this below.
Our boat’s living space comprises something just under 54.15 cubic metres (15m long by 1.9m high by 1.9m wide at its widest point).
Compare this with the government’s own specifications for new builds https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/technical-housing-standards-nationally-described-space-standard/technical-housing-standards-nationally-described-space-standard in which the minimum ceiling height is 2.3 metres, and the minimum gross internal floor area plus storage for 2-person occupation in a single storey building is 51.5 sq. metres.
This gives a volume of 118.45 cu. metres, and is somewhat more than double the space we live in. I make this point to illustrate how small a space we are lighting and heating. We also have a minimum of electric appliances.
Heat and electric power
In order to provide heat and electric power to our boat, in the winter we are almost entirely reliant on red diesel, with a small boost from our solar panels.
I have kept records of our spending on diesel for heat and electricity generation from 24/11/2022. Unfortunately I don’t have records of what we had previously spent. Between this date and 27/04/2023, a period of 5 months, we spent £1613.13 on diesel. Based on the monthly bills I do have, I estimate that in the previous month, October, the diesel bill was likely to have been approximately £200.
We cook on gas using 13kg Calor gas bottles. During this period we purchased 2 bottles of gas at a total cost of £92.00.
Total fuel costs
Our total spend on fuel during these colder months was therefore £1705.13. My estimate for October brings the grand total for winter 2022-23 up to £1905.13. An average per month of £317.52.
Comparison with a house dweller’s costs
In contrast, my sister, who lives in a 4-bedroom new build, had electricity and gas costs for January 2023 of £243.05, a difference of £74.47 less just for that one month compared with our costs.
£400 would have made a significant difference to many liveaboard boat dwellers.
The government unnecessarily deprived a vulnerable section of the population of a payment that should have been available to us. £400.00 per boat would have cost taxpayers a relatively small sum, even if fraudulent claims had been significantly numerous.