Fuel Stress

Fuel Stress

April Fuel's Day

More than six million households in Britain could face ‘fuel stress’ from April 1st, when energy bills go up.  That means they’re spending more than 10% of their income on energy.  Why are bills increasing?  The industry regulator, Ofgem, sets the maximum amount suppliers can charge and it reviews that cap every six months.  From April that maximum is being increased.

It’s a complicated mix of reasons for the rise; more than 25 suppliers went bust in 2021 so the costs to other providers of taking on their customers are being passed on in bills.  Variations in wholesale fuel prices are also going to have an impact.

 

The Cold Facts

The whys and wherefores of the price hikes won’t really interest householders; all they will be concerned about is it will be more expensive to heat their homes – up to 50% more in some cases.  That could mean having to choose between food and fuel.

Some people are already being hit hard by heating fuel bills.  Jo Barker-Marsh is a single mum on benefits who’s part of a York University study called Covid Realities which is looking at families on low incomes during the pandemic.

 

Jo told Radio 4's World at One

“What we’ve started doing is spending all the time in my son’s room.  His is the only room in the house with carpet.  So we heat that room with a small electric heater.  It really is so cold.  Last night he had his bath and I had to put the electric heater in the bathroom, otherwise it would have been freezing.  It’s that desolate and it just feels wrong.  I’m absolutely enraged.  Fuel poverty in 2022 is absolutely outrageous in this country.” 

And this is before the April price rises kick in.

David Blackmore is chairman of the Committee on Fuel Poverty, which advises the goverment on the effectivness of policies.

“We are in the position where we’ve already got millions of people struggling to heat their homes and we’ve got to do more to protect them both from today’s prices and the future prices.  The quickest way to do that is to amend the Warm Home Discount Programme.  This programme already provides millions of households with discounts of £140 a year on their energy bills.  But to qualify you need to be on certain benefits.  So the first step is to broaden this programme.  There are currently one and a half million fuel poor households who are not in receipt of benefits.  And the level of discount needs to be substantially increased.”

Other solutions suggested by the Committee on Fuel Poverty include paying for failed energy companies through taxation, rather than passing on the costs in bills, and in changes to the Winter Fuel Payment.  David Blackmore says there are many pensioners, like himself, who don’t need it; that money could be used to help people who are in need.

But those solutions will take time to implement and the clock is ticking.  April 1st is when the rises will hit.

 

Big Bills

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people living in flats are facing potentially unaffordable bills because their communal heating system’s supply is not protected by the price cap.  People who bought or rent apartments in one of the 17,000 blocks in the UK that rely on communal heating and hot water systems are facing fourfold increases as suppliers pass on the huge wholesale price increases unchecked.

In the GL Communities area that will affect several properties.  Across the country, up to half a million people live in developments where at least some of the heating or hot water is provided by a centrally controlled system, usually administered by the company that manages the estate.  Apartments in developments like these are supplied by a single energy provider, and because this is classified as a commercial deal rather than domestic supply, the residents have not had bills protected by Ofgem’s price cap. 

Other customers could be hit with a double whammy; some whose suppliers went bust haven’t yet received bills from their new providers.  There are customers who haven’t had a bill for more than six months.  They could get a demand for backdated usage and face increased charges after April 1st.  The advice was to leave direct debits to the former supplier in place, but many feared being caught in a red tape tangle and cancelled them.

The one saving grace is that at least the  increases are coming in the Spring, when hopefully we’ll be turning the thermostats down or off completely.  But the heat could be on for thousands of low-income families.

 

Help Available

Suppliers usually accept a small minimum payment to repay arrears. Most large energy companies also have trust funds provided by Auriga that could help you get out of debt. 

We are here to support you in whatever way is most comfortable for you. We will listen to your side of the story and help you decide a solution that works best for your situation.

See our contact page or advice page.

 

There is also a government fund available until the end of March 2022. The Household Support Fund will support people who are struggling to:

  • Buy food
  • Pay energy and water bills
  • Cover other essential costs linked to energy, water, and wider essentials (including sanitary products, warm clothing, soap, blankets, boiler service or repair, purchase of equipment including fridges, freezers, and ovens).

 

Priority will be given to essential and necessary items for day to day living (food, utilities, toiletries, etc), but other essential types of support will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

 

The Household Support Fund is available until March 31st, 2022.

The application form for the Household Support Fund can be found on the Gloucestershire County Council website: www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/.../local-support.../

 

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