Fuel Crisis Report
Published on Tuesday, 7th February 2023
New research by Fuel Bank Foundation has revealed the extreme measures people with prepayment meters are taking to avoid being disconnected from their energy supply.
A survey by the charity, which provides fuel vouchers to people who can’t afford to top up their prepayment meter, found that in the 12 months prior to receiving help from the Fuel Bank Foundation more than half (59%) had to make the choice between heating or eating at least once a week, with 15% saying daily.
Fifty-one per cent of people sacrificed a hot meal more than once a week to save energy, while 44% of those surveyed rationed heating and hot water every day. Other money and energy saving measures included not using electrical appliances, skipping meals altogether, buying cheaper or less food, not showering/bathing as often, and not buying clothes for children.
The extent to which lower income households with prepayment energy meters have been impacted by rising fuel bills and the cost-of-living crisis is made clear in the Fuel Bank Foundation’s newly published Fuel Crisis Report.
At the time of receiving support from the charity, 61% were either using emergency credit on the meter or had already run out of credit and the gas and electricity was switched off. Eighteen per cent of the people surveyed said their meter was about to run out in the next couple of days and they couldn't afford to top it up, while 16% said they were keeping the electricity on but were having to make significant sacrifices elsewhere.
In addition to paying for fuel, almost all (96%) said they were struggling to pay other essential household bills, including groceries, travel, Council Tax, water, and rent/mortgage.
Matthew Cole, head of Fuel Bank Foundation, said the report paints a stark picture of the harsh reality millions of people with prepayment meters face every day and highlights the need for more targeted financial support from government for low-income households.
Between April and December last year, Fuel Bank Foundation issued more than 106,000 fuel vouchers, nearly four times as many as the same period in 2021. The vouchers directly helped 225,000 people, including 96,000 children.
Mr Cole said: “The findings of the report back up what we are seeing at our Fuel Bank Centres across the UK. People at the sharp end of the poverty scale are barely keeping their heads above water, with household finances being stretched to breaking point. As a result, they are having to make difficult choices just to survive from one day to the next, and even then, that often isn’t enough to avoid being disconnected.
“The situation is as bad as we have ever seen it and without further financial support for low income and vulnerable households it’s only going to get worse for a lot of people.”
When asked how worried they are about their financial situation, compared to 12 months ago, nearly three quarters (73%) said they are much more worried.
Mr Cole said: “The people we spoke to are really concerned about their finances but also about what’s to come. Many have little hope or optimism about the future.
“This is why we are calling for collective and concerted action to be taken by government, energy suppliers and industry bodies to provide solutions to what is fast becoming, if not already, a national emergency.”
In the report, Fuel Bank Foundation puts forward several recommendations to the Government, Ofgem and suppliers to help tackle the crisis facing people with prepayment meters. Among them is the reinstatement of the Energy Bill Support Scheme, introduced by the Government last year to give every household £400 to help with energy bills this winter, but with a review into who receives the support and the amount they should get.
Fuel Bank Foundation is also calling for the Government to either increase the number of people who are eligible for the Warm Home Discount or introduce a social tariff targeted at low-income households, while for Ofgem, the charity says it should strengthen and enforce regulations where there is evidence of suppliers automatically switching customers to prepayment meters when it is not safe and practicable to do so, such as people who need electricity to power medical equipment.
“The issues around prepayment meters are complex and many and can’t be fixed with a single silver bullet,” said Mr Cole. “We all need to work together to find the solutions that best serve the needs of the most vulnerable in society.”
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