'There's no detail behind the promises': Off-grid communities left behind in cost of living crisis

A man from the Borders says he feels "there is still no detail behind promises" of support for people in rural communities that use oil and gas to heat their homes.

Richard MaClennan, who is retired and lives near Newcastleton, lives completely off the grid. He powers his home through a mixture of wood, gas, oil, coal and diesel.

Prices for these raw materials have soared, just like standard mains and electricity prices. But they are also unregulated prices - meaning they are more at risk of hikes.

He says there's not much more he can do to keep his costs down. Making sure appliances are off where he can and keeping wood as dry as possible.

A generator next to his home runs off red diesel, which then in turn powers batteries to keep lights and plugs running.

Gas is used also for cooking, with logs and coals used in burners for heating.

Richard's costs - from diesel, heating oil, coal and logs - have gone up by double digits from last year.

"I think our running costs for the cottage just for heating, lighting and gas for for cooking, has gone up from around about £130 a month a year ago year, 18 months ago, to around about £250 a month now," he said.

"Because of the remote location of where we live and you can get hit some hefty delivery charges as well."

In the government's Autumn Statement last week (17 November), the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced support for people in off-grid communities.

This £200 was in recognition that they may not be covered by the Energy Price Guarantee.

Richard said "every little helps" but said there was no detail behind the statement as to "when and how that money will be paid to households such as this one".

"And and here we are, you know, a week away from December and there's still no detail behind these promises and as to what's going to happen and when."

Richard said he was grateful that his home is well insulated and if it wasn't, energy use would be even higher.

A government spokesperson said: “We understand this is a difficult time for households, including those living off the gas grid, which is why the government has doubled support to £200 for the Alternative Fuel Payment and will deliver this payment as soon as possible this winter.

“This comes on top of the £400 being provided to households as a discount on their energy bills and the £1,200 being provided to the most vulnerable households.”

Cold to Cosy provide help to those struggling in Cumbria. Credit: ITV Border

In Cumbria, Cold to Cosy Homes - which is part of Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) - provides free insulation and advice on energy bills to those in need.

They vary from fitting LED light bulbs, radiator panels and draught proofing.

Over a month ago, Anne Freeland's home near Wigton was updated by the team. She said she was grateful for the help, particularly as cold months are settling in.

She was worried about her energy bills before they came.

"I was worried about the oil, yes, because we're all oil round here and that doubled in price which made me think twice about putting it on by using it.

"The new bulbs are going to help financially. The draught proofing should make it warmer."

Anne Freeland, Wigton, is grateful for the help that is available for her. Credit: ITV Border

Amy Hield, energy advisor at CAfS, said there had been a rise in demand in their service since the energy crisis began.

"The people that we're visiting are more worried, more anxious than they were," she said.

"And so that's another thing that our visit offers really is we can reassure people that they are doing the right thing, reassure them that there is government funding to help them and helping to budget for their energy bills."

She said their main function was check these potentially vulnerable people are not turning the heating off altogether, which was "likely to cost them mental and physical health problems".

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