Sunak denies energy bill help was timed to distract from Partygate

Rishi Sunak admits it’s ‘not possible’ to prevent wealthy from claiming multiple energy bill handouts – as Chancellor denies £21bn package was part of ‘Operation Save Big Dog’ to divert from PM’s Partygate woes

  • Rishi Sunak says it’s ‘not possible’ to stop wealthy benefitting more from support
  • Chancellor defends £21bn energy bills help in grilling by Commons committee 
  • He denies the package was timed to distract from damning Partygate report 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak today admitted it’s ‘not possible’ to prevent wealthy Britons from claiming multiple handouts as part of his energy bills support.

Under the Government’s latest action in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, Mr Sunak last month announced that every household will have £400 taken off their gas and electricity bill this winter.

It quickly emerged that the help would be applied to properties rather than individuals, meaning those who own more than one home can rack up significantly higher savings.

Mr Sunak himself, who is believed to own three homes in the UK, is set to be among those who will benefit multiple times from the support – although the Chancellor has pledged to give the cash to charity. 

The Chancellor this afternoon defended how some would benefit more than once from the handouts, as he told MPs that a universal scheme for all households was ‘the most effective way’ to provide help.

Mr Sunak also repeated his denial that the £21billion package of support he unveiled last month was timed to distract from the damning conclusions of Sue Gray’s report into Partygate.

The cost of living help was announced by the Chancellor just a day after the senior civil servant’s investigation into Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street was published.

It led to speculation the economic package was rushed through in order to help shore up Boris Johnson’s position as Prime Minister – in efforts known as ‘Operation Save Big Dog’ – in the wake of Ms Gray’s findings.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak today told MPs that a universal scheme for all households was ‘the most effective way’ to provide help

The Chancellor denied his £21bn package was rushed through in order to help shore up Boris Johnson’s position as Prime Minister – in efforts known as ‘Operation Save Big Dog’

Appearing before the House of Commons’ Treasury Committee this afternoon, Mr Sunak told MPs he had ‘always tried to be responsive to the economic situation as I see it and as it is affecting the country’.

He sought to reassure those worried that extra Government spending could exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis, with the Chancellor describing his £21bn splurge as ‘a careful and well-constructed package which will minimise the issue of inflation’.

Mr Sunak said there was no way to ensure that owners of second or third homes do not get extra support from the Government on their energy bills.

‘It’s not possible – that we found a way – to do it, but, as I said, if there’s an alternative that you found please do let us know,’ he told MPs.

‘Having looked at the various delivery options that were in front of us, this is – we think – the most effective way to get support to a very large number of people in a way that would be timely and help them where they need to.’

The Chancellor faced a prolonged grilling from Labour MP Rushanara Ali about the timing of the new support for households.

She claimed MPs expected ‘better’ from Mr Sunak than being ‘dragged into’ Mr Johnson’s ‘mess’ over the Partygate scandal.

‘Somebody of your gravitas and talents shouldn’t have fallen into the trap of trying to take part in Operation Save Big Dog – or whatever that phrase is that people in the Conservative Party have used to save the Prime Minister from law-breaking,’ Ms Ali told the Chancellor.

‘I think we expect better from you and you shouldn’t be dragged into his mess, frankly.’

Ofgem’s expectation for the energy cap in October is £2,800 for a typical family – compared to £1,972 at the moment. Before April it was just £1,277

Mr Sunak told the committee the timing of the announcement of the support package for households was not linked to Ms Gray’s report.

He instead suggested he had been waiting for more data on how much the price cap on household energy bills was likely to rise this autumn.

Asked if he came under political pressure over the timing of the announcement, Mr Sunak said: ‘No. The way the price cap works, there is an observation window from February to August, until you are through you don’t know what it will be – while there were estimates, there was no actual data.

‘We couldn’t do it for the Spring Statement because the observation window had barely opened for the price cap, so anything could have the potential to be very wrongly sized.

‘I have always said I want to strike the right balance about reassurance to people and waiting for enough information to ensure it is appropriately sized.

‘There is no perfect time but we had to do it.’

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