'Winter has already begun' - campaign for £400 energy rebate for nomadic Boaters and Travellers sails on

14 December 2022

Boaters who travel the canals and rivers and Travellers living nomadically will be getting help to pay their energy bills – as soon as the government works out how to get the support to them, a campaign group for Bargee Travellers has been told.

“With temperatures already plummeting across the country and a yellow weather warning issued, boaters are rightly anxious that their inclusion in the (£400 government energy support scheme) be clarified as soon as possible, in practice as well as principle,” say the National Bargee Traveller Association.

On December 6th, a senior official at the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy emailed the National Bargee Traveller Association to clarify the current situation for delivering government energy bill support to itinerant boaters without a home mooring, and to other itinerant off-grid households unable to provide traditional ‘proof of address’. The official confirmed that the scheme will be criteria-based and is “aimed at providing support to people in relation to energy costs incurred in their main residence.” The official also asked the National Bargee Traveller Association to help with building a system that will deliver the rebate, an offer which has been accepted.

Left out in the cold - boater families do not yet get the government's £400 energy bill rebate (c) Mike Doherty
'Left out in the cold' - boater families do not yet get the government's £400 energy bill rebate (c) Mike Doherty

“The fact that (government officials) have asked us to help them build the terms and conditions for the payment is encouraging, but it is still a work-in-progress. We must hold the government to their promises - working with them if we can, and pressuring them if we must,” say the National Bargee Traveller Association.

The National Bargee Traveller Association will be reaching out to other Traveller campaign groups to draw them into the discussions with government officials.

Households with a fixed address and a direct supply with their energy provider are already receiving a government £400 rebate on bills to help with the cost of living crisis, while itinerant liveaboard boaters and nomadic Travellers – such as those living in caravans on roadside camps and stopping places – have been so far left out in the cold and have received no support at all.

Left out in the cold - households in flats and houses connected to the grid get the £400 government support for energy bills, but itinerant boaters are yet to get a penny (c) Mike Doherty

A recent research report by the campaign charity Friends, Families and Travellers found that nomadic Travellers and boaters are suffering from the increasing energy bills just as much, if not more, than households with fixed addresses who are connected to the energy national grid, with the price of gas bottles, diesel, petrol and solid fuel all rising.

Abbie Kirkby, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers, said that government action to support nomadic families is needed now.

“It’s time for the Government to step up and deliver its plan on how exactly the (government support) will be delivered to off-grid households and sites where the type of electricity contract has meant some Romany and Traveller families have been excluded from the help,” said Abbie Kirkby.

“Discussions started months ago, and we’re yet to see any progress,” she added.

“It is not enough to say that a plan will be laid out – the cold weather is already here, and the Cost of Living continues to cause pain and misery to nomadic families up and down the country. Action is needed now.”

Nomadic Romany Gypsies and Travellers also excluded from £400 energy bill rebate - despite rising gas bottle, solid fuel and diesel/petrol costs are putting many families into fuel poverty (c) FFT

The National Bargee Traveller Association are clear about their demands on how the government should deliver the support to so far excluded nomadic livaboard boaters.

“We demand to be supported to the same extent that people living in bricks and mortar houses are,” they said.

“A range of solutions should be offered that include both a) different ways to prove that we are itinerant liveaboards, and b) different ways of receiving the £400 payment,” they continued.

"Our solutions offered to the government should be detailed and prescriptive, and should come in the form of a guidance document (and) we will reach out to other Traveller organisations to work with them on this guidance document."

'Winter has already begun' - Bargee Travellers to float ideas to government on how to make sure eligible livaboard boaters get support for energy costs

“Time is short, winter has already begun, and boaters want definitive answers as soon as possible," say the Bargee Travellers.

The National Bargee Travellers Association is a volunteer organisation formed in 2009 that campaigns and provides advice for travelling boat dwellers on Britain’s inland and coastal waterways. This includes anyone whose home is a boat and who does not have a permanent mooring for their boat with planning permission for residential use. See www.bargee-traveller.org.uk

Campaigners are urging people to sign a petition asking for support for nomadic households who are not connected to the national energy grid to keep up pressure on the government – the petition can be seen here.

Mike Doherty/TT News

(Lead photograph: Boats on the London canal © Mike Doherty)

The full National Bargee Traveller Association statement on the government energy rebate can be downloaded below: