What we know (and don’t know) about energy bills support for students

Today the government has laid before Parliament its new Energy Prices Bill, which will put into law support for consumers with energy costs.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Predictably, the position for students living away from home has only partly been clarified.

Firstly we’re talking here about England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland has some legislative devolution complexity in the Bill to resolve, but broadly we should end up in the same place.

For students who are themselves the billpayer(s) in a student residence, they should already be getting an instalment of their £400 due via the main Energy Bills Support Scheme.

The delivery mechanism varies for this by bill frequency, nature of the contract with the supplier and the supplier itself – with some detail here.

There are two other scenarios for students in HMOs – those that pay for their energy “all included” with their rent, and those that are re-sold their energy via their landlord as a separate and variable item that is rolled up with rent into a single payment.

Surprisingly, in both of these scenarios the government has decided to legislate to force landlords to pass on the £400 to tenants.

Many landlords operating all-included bills deals will be furious about this – they will take the view that when they signed the contract, energy costs were much lower and it’s them that have been taking the hit on increased costs and so them that should get the benefit.

Trouble is, practically there’s no way to differentiate those landlords from others, so everyone will get the cash. Maybe landlords shouldn’t be locking students in so early.

Of course, some landlords may attempt to refuse to pass on the money as directed. The legislation will see that it is recoverable on a civil basis, but could be a headache.

The above schemes concern domestic energy bills – but there’s also the question of those living in halls of residence. Today’s announcement says that new “Energy Bill Support Scheme Alternative Funding” is intended to provide £400 of support for households across the UK that would otherwise miss out on the Energy Bills Support Scheme as they do not have a domestic electricity contract.

That sounds great, but I have a funny feeling that the government isn’t about to give £400 to everyone with a room in halls, and would struggle to define a cluster flat or whatnot. Detail will follow and at the time of hitting publish, BEIS naturally hadn’t answered our question.

Alternatively, the government will argue this a different way – it is also saying that if someone’s landlord has a non-domestic contract, they will benefit from the Energy Bill Relief Scheme and should pass the savings on to the end user. That will mean different amounts to students based on the deal struck by the owner on energy and the number of residents to share it between – and the big problem there is that in many cases halls owners (including universities) will have struck a deal a while ago that means they will already be paying under the proposed cap for the six months that non-domestic scheme is due to run for, which would mean no savings to pass on the end user.

Those in army barracks and care homes are in a similar position – we might assume that some political pressure will be brought to bear on the latter which may generate an accidental read-across for students.

Oh – and the straightforward energy bills rebates schemes on domestic supply do apply to international students, but it’s not clear if the “mop up” schemes that would be administered through local authorities would count as “public funding that they have no recourse to.

Again, we’ll update this piece when we hear on all these uncertainties, because as usual the millions of students in these situations don’t explicitly feature in today’s announcement(s).

One response to “What we know (and don’t know) about energy bills support for students

  1. It’s not just students who pay landlords for the power they use. I’m one of five middle-aged and pension tenants, each in their own flats all in one house, who pay cash on top of their rent to the landlord and the power supplier didn’t know we existed along with our sub-meters, undeclared by the landlord, until I told them about this last month. They are only crediting the landlord’s main meter account since October, but we five tenants don’t get paid as we are not direct customers of the energy company. The landlord has control over all the sub-meters and couldn’t care less if we get paid or not.

    As it’s the local authorities who are to start paying out the alternative fund, how will they know which tenants in every borough have meters and which don’t? How do we prove our case? I’m told the meters are invalid as they have no MPAN number. We’ll have to prove a negative case to the council but how will they know who to pay? My local council, Brent, in west London, didn’t even know about this scheme last week. None of the many agencies I called including Citizens Advice, OFGEM, two Ombudsmen, Money Helper, Age UK, etc, knew what to do and were generally unhelpful.

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