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Gypsy and Traveller families 'paying £600 a month for gas' after being left out in the cold from government support

The overwhelming majority of Gypsy and Traveller families in south east England have no access to mains gas, a new report found.

People park their vardo, or horse-drawn caravan, on the opening day of the annual Appleby Horse Fair, in the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland, North West England on June 4, 2015. Image: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

People in the Gypsy and Traveller community are missing out on the government’s energy bills support scheme despite some potentially paying up to £589 a month on gas bottles alone, a new report has found. 

Some 97 per cent of families living on sites managed by local authorities in the south east of England had no access to mains gas, according to the report from charity Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT). Residents are forced instead to rely on expensive gas cylinders. On 82 per cent of the sites, residents were also on prepayment meters which are typically more expensive. 

“This cannot and must not be allowed to continue,” said Abbie Kirkby, public affairs and policy manager at FFT. “Government and local authorities must urgently tackle the exclusion of many Romany and Traveller families from energy support schemes, as well as address the poor design and management of sites which lead to fuel poverty.”

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The report also found that 32 per cent of families living on local authority sites in the south east of England were not eligible for the government’s £400 energy bill support scheme as the local authority held the contract for the electricity supply. In its current form, the scheme excludes anyone who doesn’t have a direct contract with an electricity supplier or mains electricity access.

Gypsy and Traveller organisations already told the government in August that many households would miss out on the scheme for this very reason. 

The government plans to make funding available for communities in January, months after the rest of the country and deep into winter.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The Energy Bills Support Scheme Alternative Funding will provide support of £400 for energy bills for around 900,000 households without a domestic electricity supply including, subject to eligibility criteria, travellers on residential sites. 

“This comes on top of the support of £200 for the Alternative Fuel Payment which we will deliver as soon as possible this winter.”

A spokesperson for FFT said they were “pleased” more assistance would come, adding: “We await to see precisely how the funding will be administered to ensure no-one, including roadside families, misses out.”

The report from FFT explored energy access and prices for Romany Gypsy, Irish Traveller and nomadic communities living in caravans in the south east of England. The data covers 58 sites across 20 local authorities who responded to freedom of information requests. 

There are an estimated 24,371 traveller caravans across England who could be facing the same dangerous predicament. 

The government previously promised that a £400 payment would be made available for those living in a park home, houseboat, as well as energy consumers living off the grid, with an announcement to be made in the autumn. 

“[But] progress on this is slow,” the report outlines, “families are living in harder to heat homes, experiencing fuel poverty and not getting the support that’s needed quickly enough.” 

“The energy crisis and its unequal impact on Romany, Irish Traveller and nomadic people is yet another entrenched inequality these communities face in the UK today,” said Ivy Manning, community engagement officer at the charity. “The report clearly shows that more must be done to shield Gypsy and Traveller communities from fuel poverty, for now and for the future. No one should face the bleak choice of either staying warm, mould-free or feeding themselves.”

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