Energy bills set to double as millions forced to choose between 'heating and eating' - but help is at hand

ENERGY bills are set to double for millions of households forcing many people to make the difficult choice between ‘heating or eating’.

By Steve Deeks
Monday, 24th January 2022, 4:55 am

The number of homes set to be plunged into ‘fuel stress’ could rise to over six million in April when a new price cap comes into play, according to the think-tank Resolution Foundation.

It means bills for customers on standard tariffs are in line to increase by 50 per cent, taking a typical annual bill to £2,000.

This will see the proportion of households in England in fuel stress rise from nine per cent to 27 per cent.

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A central heating themostat.

Calls have been made to stop the hike and for the government to offer greater support to those in need.

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Meanwhile JPI Media has launched a national campaign, Heat & Eat, shining a light on the subject, whilst offering tips to boost energy savings and highlight help that is available.

The energy predicament has led to widespread calls for action amid fears over the spiralling cost of living, with the Bank of England predicting a rise of six per cent in inflation.

Cllr Jason Fazackarley.

There will be tax rises too as National Insurance contributions go up due to a 1.25 per cent health and social care levy to help the NHS. Meanwhile food prices are rising at their fastest pace since August 2020.

Figures in Portsmouth have revealed the impact already being felt - with the bleak situation only likely to worsen in April.

Steve Bonner, of Pompey Pensioners, said the impending rise was ‘extremely worrying’ especially with pensions only up by three per cent and inflation already at five per cent.

He said: ‘I know of people having to decide whether to have heating or eating and are heating themselves with blankets and water bottles. It is very damaging for people on a fixed income.

Steve Bonner, chairman of Portsmouth Pensioners Association. Picture: Sarah Standing (210619-1378)

‘The situation is made worse by companies making millions of pounds out of the crisis.

‘We will be putting pressure on the government to relieve the pressure on pensioners and anyone on benefits. We will be launching a campaign including a petition to force the government to take action.

‘I think they will have to step in. It will be a disaster if they don’t. We already have the worst pensions in the industrial west.

Steve, 74, said current government schemes make you ‘go through hoops’ and are ‘inadequate’ while the agencies that look after helping people were ‘toothless’.

From left, Louise Wilders, Alison Barnes of Sweet Cakes Southsea who donated food, with Catherine Ramsay of Hive.

Louise Wilders, chief executive of city support network Hive, revealed she knew of people opting to be cold rather than pay for heating.

She said: ‘We know it is having a big impact and there are people who are not putting the heating on during the day as they are afraid they can’t afford the increasing bills.

‘The heating allowance for the elderly and disabled does not touch the sides and is having an impact on mental health and adding further pressure to the mental health system.

‘People are really, really struggling. The pressure is real. It’s been a long, wet, miserable winter and people are working from home more due to Covid and are turning their heating off because they are scared they can’t pay the bills.

‘We can’t have situations where people are prepared to sit at home in the cold. People are trapped in their own homes with blankets and wearing extra clothes as they don’t want to use fuel.’

She added: ‘The government needs to do something about it. There are energy suppliers not accepting new people so even switching is difficult.’

The heating or eating crisis is coming to a crunch point

Lib Dem councillor Jason Fazackarley, member for health and wellbeing, said he was ‘worried a lot of people will struggle’ with him describing the situation as ‘pretty grim’.

‘It has not hit home yet and won’t fully until the first new bill comes through the post. Then we will realise how much of a rise there will be,’ he said.

‘We all have an income and we try to stay within that but there will be a big impact across the UK for standard households. It is out of our hands, we are bound by what the energy firms charge.

‘I don’t have the solution but campaigns highlighting the issue and making a stand should be applauded. They are useful as they make people aware and motivate things to change.’

He added that cutting down on heating means certain groups are ‘more susceptible to health risks’ and said the government has to step in.

‘People will look to the government to respond. We need a national take on this. Hopefully they act,’ the councillor said.

JPI Media’s campaign suggests a number of easy ways to save money.

These include knowing how much money leaves your bank account each week and month, from mortgage or rent payments, to utility bills and the food shop.

Do one food shop a week and stick to essentials with a list of ingredients for planned meals. Identify expenditure that isn’t absolutely necessary and get rid of it.

Secure the best energy deal you can and if necessary switch providers.

Save energy within the home in every way possible. Turn lights and electrical appliances off when not in a room, and wear more clothes to keep warm instead of turning up heating. Only use the car when you have to and save on petrol spends.

Meanwhile Advice Portsmouth supports people in a number of ways including through grants, food banks, support schemes and offering financial advice - with the charity braced for the expected spike in energy bills in April.

Annette Green, manager, said: ‘We are seeing quite a few people struggling to afford gas and electricity. We also see people who top up their energy bills being left with nothing for food afterwards.

‘When clients come to us we look at what advice and support we can offer. We look at their bank statements and debt and any other concerns like financial abuse before we consider what to do.

‘We make contact with energy suppliers on our clients behalf as they are often anxious and stressed after having their benefits stopped or having a relationship breakdown. We try to get the companies to help top up these bills and make vulnerable people a priority.

‘If they don’t get this then we look at potential funds until they get their benefits and give them budget advice.

‘We are very concerned people may end up with additional debt which can affect their wellbeing and the household.’

The charity does much to help those struggling, with it providing 50 food bank vouchers since October, supporting 53 people with help for grants and for white goods and other essential items, and has helped £4m from being ‘written-off’ for those in dire financial straits through a debt relief order or bankruptcy.

‘People say it feels amazing with such a weight lifted off their shoulders,’ Annette said.

The charity has also helped 13 people top up bills between October and December via a Winter Hardship grant that has handed out £900.

The Household Support Fund, launched in December, sees the city council paid a pot of money from the government to help people. This scheme ends in March with Advice Portsmouth already holding discussions with the Universal Credit Partnership about further support in April when the escalating bills are set to come in.

Annette added: ‘We always say to people to get advice with us first before paying off a debt and not leaving yourself anything else for the rest of the month.’

A Portsmouth City Council spokeswoman said: ‘The news of increasing energy prices will be a concern to residents across Portsmouth, which is why the council's Switched On Portsmouth service remains incredibly important.

Residents in need of assistance or advice should get in touch with the team who have a number of initiatives and schemes that can help them lower their energy bills.

‘Whilst residents might use less energy in April as it won't be as cold, direct debits will be increased to cover annual usage. The current advice is not to switch energy provider at this moment in time (as of January 2022). Energy suppliers are not able to offer competitive prices, so residents will be better off remaining on a standard tariff (energy providers will switch customers onto standard tariff when their current deal runs out).

‘The cheapest fixed deal available at the minute is 56 per cent more than a standard tariff. Fortunately, residents can apply for help through Switched On Portsmouth. ‘Residents are encouraged to go online to find ways to save energy, reduce bills and apply for free energy upgrades for their homes. Switched On Portsmouth also provides updates on the price increases, as well as lots of advice on when to switch supplier so that residents are never paying more than they need to.’

For more information go to: switchedonportsmouth.co.uk or call the freephone helpline on 0800 2605907.

The British Gas Energy Trust also helps people struggling in certain situations. For more information go to: britishgasenergytrust.org.uk

Those struggling can also turn to a number of other organisations listed on the city council’s website that offer help.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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