Regular readers will recall that for many months now I’ve been tracking the sorry tale of students’ access to the “every household in Britain” promise of £400 through the Energy Bills Support Scheme.
First, having been told for months that students living in a house with “all inclusive bills” would get the cash, it emerged that the only students in a shared house that would get the £400 would be those who, in fact, did not have their bills fully included. Obviously.
But for those in halls (or indeed houses where the landlord has a commercial energy supply) the question that has lingered for months has been whether they would get access to the emergent “alternative funding”.
This is a special scheme for those who live somewhere without a domestic energy supply – like care home residents, people in park homes, house boats at residential moorings, travellers on authorised fixed sites, energy consumers who live off the grid, and students in both university and private halls.
I won’t go over the detail of this miserable story again – feel free to immerse in the horror of it from back in October – save to say that I’ve been struggling to get a straight answer out of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for months to confirm student eligibility for this “alternative funding” one way or the other.
A little bit of me thought that it was just a big oversight, and I’d need to issue a big correction to the October blog – after all, in early December Energy Minister Graham Stuart reiterated his promise that “every household across the UK” would get the £400.
It got to a stage where daily chasing was becoming pointless and I sort of gave up in the end, only jumping back into the BEIS inbox before Christmas after receiving a press notice on the “alternative funding” trumpeting the roll out of the scheme via local authorities in January.
The omens were mixed. Students weren’t mentioned in the list of those that would get the cash – but we were told (for example) that “all households in Northern Ireland” would get the money. There are deffo some students that live away from home in Northern Ireland, I was thinking. I’ve been to Holyland, and I’ve stayed in halls at Ulster and Stranmillis. Maybe a Christmas miracle is coming after all.
At the time, the BEIS press office gave a little smidgeon of hope, telling me:
Eligibility depends on how a person’s energy is supplied and not on educational status such as being a student.
But now via a written question from BEIS Committee Chair Darren Jones, we appear to have had the diametric opposite confirmed. Jones asked what steps the department is taking to ensure students living in (a) halls of residence and (b) other properties supplied via non-domestic energy suppliers receive support under the Energy Bills Support Scheme. And here’s the reply from Energy Minister Graham Stuart:
Students in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) have energy costs covered in their fees which are set on an annual basis. The purpose of the EBSS is to support individuals facing increased energy costs this winter, and as such students in PBSA will not be eligible for the EBSS Alternative Funding. Eligible individuals in other properties supplied via a non-domestic energy supply will be able to apply for the EBSS Alternative Funding payment by submitting a short online form via the GOV.UK webpage which opens later in January and which will outline further eligibility details.
This is, if you think about it, completely outrageous. Plenty of students signed contracts last summer, by which time their operator had priced in a big increase to the rent to cover energy bills hikes. Almost everyone in clearing in halls did that. Plenty of January starts are doing so right now.
And plenty of other citizens covered by the EBSS Alternative Funding are in this “fees set on an annual basis” situation – what are the chances that care home residents in a similar situation are about to be told they won’t get the cash? Or Park Home residents? Or non-students in co-living buildings?
The criteria that will shortly be published will say:
The household that support is being claimed for is the main or only home address of the person to receive the support.
That applies to students in halls.
The resident or applicant is responsible for paying the household energy bill. This means either directly or as part of a service charge, rent, or other arrangement and may have the impact of increased energy bills costs passed on to them between 1 October 2022 and 31 March 2023.
As I say, that applies to plenty of students in halls because of the way in which the operator will have priced in the hit in the rent.
The household is not already receiving EBSS payments in whole or in part.
That applies to students in halls.
The household is not a business premises or other form of non-domestic premises. It must be used solely or mainly for domestic purposes. This is except for businesses whose main business activity is to provide long term residential accommodation (such as landlords).
And again, that’s students in halls.
We can only speculate as to why BEIS has waited until now to say this – letting over half a million of our lowest income citizens believe they were going to get £400 only to let them down at the last minute.