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

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.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivers a statement
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announces the rebate for homeowners in the House of Commons. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/Reuters

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.”