Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has secured a commitment from ministers not to “claw back” any Alternative Fuel Payment funds wrongly delivered to households in the isles. The delayed rollout of the Alternative Fuel Payment has caused confusion for many families in the isles who either have not received the payment despite apparently being eligible, or have received it despite not expecting it. Those who believe that they have wrongly been excluded from the payment can now apply manually through https://www.gov.uk/apply-alternative-fuel-bill-support-if-not-automatic.
Constituents in need of support can contact Alistair Carmichael’s office by email or phone (firstname.lastname@example.org and 01595 690044).
Following questions in Parliament last week, Mr Carmichael received a response from the government stating that:
“[B]ecause there is no central register of homes which use alternative fuels to heat their homes, it is inevitable that some electrically heated homes will be included in the payment. Government will not require customers to repay an Alternative Fuel Payment which they have received, even if they use electricity to heat their homes.”
Speaking yesterday in Parliament in a debate on the Alternative Fuel Payment regulations, Mr Carmichael raised a range of questions in relation to the operation of the scheme including the numbers still to receive payments, recourse for those refused payment and the time taken for applications to be processed.
Mr Carmichael said:
“The Liberal Democrats support this scheme but we have serious concerns about the way in which it has been implemented. A number of people whose homes are heated entirely by electricity should not, on my reading of the regulations, have been given the alternative fuel payment, but on the basis of the modelling used by the Department, they have been given it. Others in an identical situation will now have to make an application through the portal that went live yesterday. If the Government are to implement their own regulations, those applications will be refused. That will leave us in the manifestly unfair situation whereby, for two households in exactly the same situation, one will be in receipt of the £200 payment and the other will not.
“The Minister has already told me in correspondence that there are no plans to claw back payments that have been made. That being the case, what will be the remedy for those whose application through the portal is refused?
“One business in Orkney brought to my attention today the fact that it will not, apparently, receive the payment because it changed its energy supplier at the start of the year, which again appears to be a fundamental unfairness.
“Shetland Heat, Energy & Power provides a district heating scheme to many local households. It appears to us that they have been excluded from the scheme. Will the Minister explain to us, either now or in correspondence, why that should be the case?
“The applications that are now having to be made by those who have not received their payment automatically are to be done through the portal. So will the Minister tell us how long it will take for those people to be given a decision? In the event that they are unhappy with the decision made, what will be their appeal process?
“Finally, I turn to the issue of those who rely on solid fuel—peat, coal or logs—for their heating. It is now apparent that they will have to provide receipts. Those can go back to September, but someone who has been buying coal every week will not have kept their receipts. How are those people going to get access to this important payment? It is arbitrary to say that solid fuel bought only after September will be eligible for reimbursement.
“Will the Minister tell us how many payments have already been made? How many people will now have to make an application through the portal? How many does the Department estimate will remain off grid but will not receive a payment under this scheme?”
In response, the Minister undertook to update Mr Carmichael and other members on the issues she was unable to answer.