Government must take action on fuel poverty

| 24th March 2020
Fuel Poverty Action
Fuel Poverty Action
Fuel Poverty Action is calling on the government and energy suppliers to make sure that the coronavirus crisis does not leave people in the cold or dark.

Fuel poverty already claims more than 9000 lives per year in the UK, and older and disabled people are particularly at risk from the virus if they cannot keep warm.

Huge numbers of people are spending far more time at home in these strange times, and their energy costs are going up. Some are also losing their main income.

Fuel poverty already claims more than 9000 lives per year in the UK, and older and disabled people are particularly at risk from the virus if they cannot keep warm.

An agreement was reached last week to support people “most in need” during the crisis. However, unless some crucial actions are taken fast, it is likely that many people will not receive the help they are entitled to – and desperately need.

Petition 

The agreement promises that disconnections will be suspended and that customers struggling to pay can contact their supplier for help.

But it doesn’t make clear if unaffordable payments will be waived, or postponed. This leaves many afraid to use the heating they need in case they are just racking up debts.

Moreover, the onus is on the customer to negotiate with their supplier, at a time when Customer Services will be inundated and many people face family illnesses and job losses. Those who have difficulties with English, or computers, are particularly likely to slip through the safety net.

Fuel Poverty Action have launched a petition calling on government to make the promised support a reality by taking action including:

  • Providing free credit to all prepayment meter users, promptly, so that they are not left in the cold or without power while negotiating with suppliers.  
  • Guaranteeing that customers in financial distress, including those self-isolating and/or losing jobs or customers, will have bills reduced to what they can afford – and not just deferred. 
  • Announcing a moratorium on debt repayments.
  • Prominently publicising the support on offer, in government bulletins and TV advertisements. 
  • Ensuring people can access this help quickly, without showing entitlement to benefits. 
  • Offering cash grants for off-grid customers who need them.

 

Fear

Bridgit Sam-Bailey of Lewisham Pensioners Forum said: “People like myself who are under lockdown need to keep ourselves warm, primarily because we are not going out, and we are not as active as we would normally be.

"If our supplies are terminated we will not only die of Covid-19, we would be FROZEN. If our bills are higher than the norm, then they should be frozen.”

Rhiannon Hughes of Southwark Group of Tenants organisations said: “Already people are terrified to put their heating or electric on knowing that they will be using it beyond their means. Someone just asked me how they will survive beyond the three hours of fuel they currently struggle to budget for a day. This 65 year old man should not be scared by crippling fuel prices.”

Another Southwark resident, a mother on benefits who is caring for her disabled daughter, said: “I received a warm home discount but this is all used up. I have put £20 on my prepayment meter.

"People on a small income cannot afford to stock up on food so we have to go out more. Shops are doubling their prices for food which leaves less money for fuel. I am using all my food money on the prepayment meter, and spending more because I am worried I won't be able to go out again to top up or the top up shops might be closed.”

This is a time when it is obviously crucial that people come before profit.

This Author 

Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from Fuel Poverty Action.

Image: Fuel Poverty Action

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