Anger grows over second homes energy windfall

Both the Observer and Sunday Times carry articles on Rishi’s generosity to second home owners giving them twice the fuel discount, and how it plays within the local communities. – Owl

‘It’s not on’: Whitstable rages against extra £400 for second-home owners’ fuel bills

Mark Townsend 

Peter Robinson stared out to sea and shook his head. “It’s not on. They don’t need more money.”

The “they” in question are the thousands of second-home owners who have converged on Whitstable in recent years. According to the 68-year-old, 40% of all the houses on Albert Street, where he has lived for two decades, are now second homes.

And Rishi Sunak’s latest intervention to help the nation pay its energy bills – £400 for every household – means that Whitstable’s expanding cohort of second-home owners will be rewarded with a double rebate, one for each home.

In the Kent coastal town, such generosity has left many – largely those who own a single home – bewildered. “The house next door to me has been sold to a wealthy developer to convert into holiday homes. The same with the one opposite,” said Robinson, a retired council worker.

Further along Whitstable’s beachfront promenade, retired teacher Sarah Houseman similarly lamented the chancellor’s largesse. “It would seem unfair to give these people more money,” said the 65-year-old. Houseman noted that neighbouring three-bed terraced homes were being rented out to tourists for between £700 and £800 a weekend. “And they have no problem getting that. These people don’t need extra help.”

Like many in the town, she felt that Sunak’s announcement was rushed out last Thursday in order to deaden the outrage that followed Sue Gray’s Partygate report. “It’s not fair to use this [the energy crisis] in order to save their political skin,” she said.

Outside the Sea Farmer’s Dive pub, electrician Max Legett was convinced Sunak’s initiative would be modified to stop it rewarding the wealthy. “There’ll be uproar if it’s not changed.”

Whitstable’s locals call the second-home owners DFLs – Down From London, a reference to the fact that many who own second homes live in the capital. It’s a trend accelerated by the pandemic.

A recent national survey listing the most popular places for second homes included Whitstable as the only town in the south-east, the remainder being largely in Cornwall.

Legett was a DFL once, arriving from south-east London 16 years ago. Now a self-described native, he worries at what has unfolded in the south-west of England. “So far, it hasn’t yet changed the character in the same way as Cornwall.”

For another long-term Whitstable resident, the fact that second-home owners will be given an extra windfall was greeted with a resigned shrug. John Baker admitted he’d given up caring who was buying what in his adopted town. The 70-year-old said that coping with a ruptured achilles tendon and a brain tumour diagnosed in 2017 had made him philosophical. “Some haven’t, but the reality is that some of these second-home owners have worked bloody hard for them.”

Further along a street called Sea Wall, one of those second-home owners – who asked to remain anonymous – conceded that Sunak’s handout to the 772,000 households with two homes rankled.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous, it’s impossible to justify. That money should be given to the most needy,” she said, adding that she donated to local charities and helped out at a food bank to alleviate her conscience.

She said: “I for one will certainly not be keeping that extra £400.”

Subsidising the wealthy: the village of second homes … and they all get a fuel grant

Hannah Al-Othman 

It is easy to see why second homeowners love Chapel Stile, a beautiful village close to both Windermere and England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike.

About 85 per cent of the 160 or so homes in the village are holiday lets or second homes, according to the local MP, the former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

For people who actually live in the village — an increasingly rare breed — the takeover by outsiders is worrying. Many are angry that second homeowners will get the same £400 discount on their energy bill this year, announced last week by the chancellor, as they will.

“That extra £400 benefit for people who do not need it is to completely fail to read the room, to fail to understand one of the biggest things affecting rural communities,” Farron said.

Many of the few remaining full-time residents of Chapel Stile are pensioners — younger people have mostly gone elsewhere, in search of better job opportunities and more affordable housing. On the Rightmove website, properties being advertised for sale around the village include a £725,000 three-bedroom end-of-terrace house in Elterwater, near Ambleside.

“It’s terrible,” said Gordon Smith, 87, who has lived in Chapel Stile his entire life. “There’ll be no local people left. In fact, we’re being driven out.”

Last year a four-bedroom semi-detached house in the village sold for more than £1 million, far beyond the reach of those who have lived here all their lives, often in rented accommodation.

“It’s absolutely disgusting,” Sue Monk, 71, said. “They have pots of money to start with. They do local people out of being able to own a home because we can’t afford them. We’re all in rented accommodation. Why they should get it for their second homes, I have no idea.”

Monk, who lives alone, is keeping her head above water but only because she manages her money carefully. “I’m on the basic state pension — I’ve nothing else,” she said. “I don’t put the television on till five o’clock at night, and I usually switch it off at about eight. I switch lights off, I limit the washing machine to a couple of washes a week.”

Chapel Stile is just a few miles northwest of the tourist honeypot of Ambleside, with its cafés, pleasure boats, and watersports. It is an enviable place to call home but locals pay a premium to live in the Lake District.

Housing costs are high here and incomes are low, with many working in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Public transport is expensive and unreliable, leaving many households no choice but to run a car. Even local shops charge higher prices for a loaf of bread than city convenience stores.

Asked why the money is being given to second homeowners, the Treasury insisted that it would be impossible to differentiate between which energy bills are paid by those with more than one home.

The average median full-time salary for somebody living in Farron’s constituency, Westmorland & Lonsdale, is £20,400 a year, below the average of £23,700 in the North West of England, according to ONS data for 2019-20. Farron said: “The thing to remember about an area like ours is we’ve got very low unemployment, but low incomes. And on top of that, the cost of living in a rural community is that much greater.”

However, Jeremy Lewis, 57, who runs the local shop in Chapel Stile, puts it bluntly. “I basically earn my living from the tourists,” he said. “So I don’t want anything to stop them coming.”