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Energy / ‘Entirely unfair’: some islanders facing ferry trips to redeem energy support voucher

The ferry terminal at Toft, the gateway from the Shetland mainland to Yell, Unst and Fetlar.

SOME people in North Isles face shelling out for ferries to the Shetland mainland – before driving or taking the public transport to Brae – to access energy support payments from the UK Government.

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson said it is “entirely unfair” and could cancel out some of the benefit of the £66 payment.

The situation relates to the UK Government’s £400 Energy Bills Support Scheme discount, which aims to help everyone with their bills this winter.

It will be split into separate payments and the first instalment is worth £66.

For many it will automatically be applied to their monthly electricity bill, but those on prepayment meters will get vouchers.

The vouchers can be redeemed at a shop with a PayPoint facility, but there are none in islands like Unst, Yell, Fetlar and Skerries. PayPoint systems offer people the ability to make energy meter pre-payments, bill payments and mobile phone top-ups.

Thomson said the nearest PayPoint for the North Isles is in Brae, which for Unst residents means two ferries and plenty of driving in between.

He said he is liaising with the council on the best solution.

“This is entirely unfair and as usual those living in the islands and in rural areas are never considered when rolling out these types of blanket schemes,” Thomson said. “It’s simply not good enough.”

The government says Post Offices can be used to redeem the energy support payments, but Thomson said locally these use the PayZone system which does not work with the vouchers.

People in the isles however can top-up electricity at Post Offices.

Gordon Thomson from the Unst Partnership said the idea of putting on transport for islanders to get to a PayPoint facility has been discussed, but not taken forward yet.

He said there are about six folk in Unst affected by the situation.

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The issue has been taken up by Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

Alistair Carmichael. Photo: Shetland News

“It surely cannot make sense to force people to jump through hoops – and indeed onto ferries – simply to get access to their energy support payments,” he said.

“The entire point of these payments is to save struggling families on their energy bills, so adding on this cost of time and transport is clearly counterproductive.

“I have been raising the matter with the ministers who put the system in place so that we can get a better solution.

“Support payments are welcome but there should not be needless barriers to getting them.

“It cannot be beyond the wit of man to ensure that people can get their payments in a simple and direct way.”

A spokesperson for the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We encourage customers to have their credit applied to their meter as soon as possible so they can benefit from the Energy Bills Support Scheme, which is being provided in monthly instalments over six months from October 2022, totalling £400 in all.

“Customers have 90 days to redeem their vouchers, and can redeem more than one voucher at a time – which will be especially useful for those living in rural and remote areas.

“A friend or family member topping up on a customer’s behalf will need to have relevant authority and ID to do so – please confirm this with your energy supplier.”

Prepayment meter customers in England, Scotland and Wales should have now received their first two discount vouchers by SMS text, email or post.

Electricity suppliers are expected to take all reasonable steps to ensure vouchers are provided, including by making a minimum of three attempts to contact customers who have not redeemed their payment to encourage them to take action.

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