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Four million (15% of) households in the UK are not connected to the mains gas grid and people in this situation generally have very little choice in their source of heating fuel. Households with oil-fired central heating, and those using solid fuel or liquid petroleum gas (LPG) to heat their homes, are much more likely to be in fuel poverty than “on-grid” households. The higher fuel costs faced by off-grid households are the main reason for this, although there are other factors.

It has been suggested that bringing forward the timing of Winter Fuel Payments (WFPs) for off-grid households might provide some help by enabling them to stock up on fuel at a time of year when prices are likely to lower than in the middle of winter. A Private Member’s Bill presented by Mike Weir MP – the Winter Fuel Allowance Payments (Off Gas Grid Claimants) Bill – is expected to have its Second Reading on 7 September 2012.

WFPs – worth £200 or £300 per household – are intended to provide reassurance to older people that they can afford to turn up their heating in the coldest winter months. Payments are usually made between November and the end of the year to those who satisfied the conditions for entitlement during the September “qualifying week”.

While making early WFPs to off-grid households would be feasible, it could cause problems for the scheme as a whole and add to administrative costs. On-grid households could also feel aggrieved at being denied access to early payments. A particular problem is that the WFP scheme is predicated on a well-established annual timetable for establishing entitlement and making payments into individuals’ bank accounts just before the coldest winter weather is likely. Moving the qualifying week to earlier in the year in order to make earlier payments to off-grid households would present difficulties. Alternatively, off-grid households could be offered an advance payment facility, with the money recoverable from their WFP, but this could be complicated – and expensive – to set up.

Further information can be found in Library standard notes SN/SC/5806, Heating oil and other off-gas grid heating; and SN06019, Winter Fuel Payments update.

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