Nearly five million people in fuel poverty cannot afford to keep the lights on and pay energy bills, according to new research published today.
Research by the Debt Advice Charity found that 4.7 million people across the UK are frequently cut off from their electricity supply, because they cannot afford to top-up pre-paid electricity meters.
Pre-paid meters are usually more expensive than other payment options, but fuel poor households say they rely on them to better manage energy costs.
Around 25% of families across the UK rely on pre-paid meters to help pay energy bills, with one in ten saying they are in arrears with gas, water or electricity.
18% of households questioned by the Debt Advice Charity said their gas supply is cut off on average every few months, while 7% were left without gas at least once per week.
Around 6% of respondents said they were regularly left without electricity at least once a week.
Households in the West Midlands and East Midlands have the highest rates of fuel poverty, with 63% of those in the East Midlands struggling to afford to top-up pre-paid meters.
Fuel poverty is defined as households who spend more than 10% of the overall income on fuel and energy costs.
A Debt Advice Charity spokesperson said:
“To see this level of fuel poverty in the UK is very worrying. Heating, lighting and hot water are basic necessities that everyone should have access to, yet there are many vulnerable households who are forced to go without.
“We would like to see more help given to households in danger of losing their energy supply.
“I would advise anyone whose energy is at risk of being cut-off to speak to their supplier as soon as possible to ask for help, and also, to contact the Home Heat Helpline for free advice on getting out of fuel poverty.
“The Debt Advisory Centre would also like to see those customers who are able to demonstrate that they can pay energy bills to be taken off pre-paid meters and put on to cheaper deals.”
Energy giant Npower recently announced the creation of a fuel voucher scheme for families struggling with energy costs. Dubbed “fuel banks” by critics, vouchers will be made available through Trussell Trust food banks.
The scheme is open to all families struggling with energy costs and not just Npower customers or pre-paid meter users.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 May 2015
Families in poverty who are forced to switch off their gas and electricity supply because they are unable afford spiralling energy bills will be offered free charity fuel vouchers under a pilot scheme. The so-called “fuel banks” initiative will provide a £49 credit for struggling families who use prepayment meters in a move designed to address the austerity-era dilemma of “heat or eat”. It is being run by energy firm nPower and poverty charities including the food bank network Trussell Trust.
The vouchers, which will provide enough credit to restore power, and keep lights and heating on for up to two weeks, will be available to people in crisis referred to food banks by welfare advice agencies, GPs and social workers.
Labour MP Frank Field, who has campaigned against fuel and food poverty through his all-party Feeding Britain initiative, described the scheme as an “important breakthrough” that would help families who face an agonising choice between putting money in the gas meter or food on the table.
But critics said it was a public relations move that could not substitute for low wages and cuts to the welfare state hardship funds, or distract from the “profiteering” fuel prices charged by the Big Six energy firms – including npower.
Inability to afford even switch on the cooker or heat bathwater has been a striking feature of poverty in the UK in recent years, as low-income households struggle to cope with shrinking wages, rising living costs and welfare cuts such as the bedroom tax.
Last year it emerged that Trussell’s food banks were issuing special “kettle box” food parcels designed for clients who could not afford to cook, or in extreme cases, “cold box” parcels for those who could not even afford to heat water.
The fuel bank scheme is explicilty aimed at households who “self-disconnect” from prepayment meters to save money. Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau suggests more than 1.6 million people go without electricity or gas every year in the UK.
The scheme, which will be available to all referred people, not just npower customers, will be piloted in 21 locations across County Durham, Kingston-upon-Thames and Gloucester. If deemed successful, npower will roll out the initiative nationwide, with the aim of support up to 13,000 households in the first year.
The vouchers will be distributed using Trussell’s food bank protocols, to individuals and families referred to them after being identified by professionals as being “in crisis”. Clients would be allowed three fuel vouchers in a year.
David McAuley, chief executive of the trust, said:
“In many cases people coming to food banks can be facing financial hardship that leaves them both hungry and in fuel poverty. By providing npower fuel bank vouchers at food banks, we can make sure that people who are most vulnerable are not only given three days’ food, but can turn on the energy supply to cook it and heat their homes too.”
Matthew Cole, npower’s head of policy and obligations, said the energy company had always worked hard to help its most vulnerable customers:
“It [the fuel bank scheme] will provide immediate and hassle free support to households where often the choice is between food or warmth.”
Matthew Cole of the Fuel Poverty Action campaign said:
“These fuel banks will do nothing to hide the harmful actions of the Big Six, including home break-ins to install unwanted prepayment meters, visits by bailiffs, and energy supply disconnections to vulnerable households.
“Our current, for-profit energy system is broken – only an affordable, public, and renewable energy system will make a meaningful difference to those affected by fuel poverty and energy debt. With the huge majority of public opinion in favour of public energy, it’s no wonder the Big Six are trying to improve their image.”
The Trussell trust, which this week announced that its 445 food banks distributed enough emergency food to feed almost 1.1 million people for three days last year, said that it was looking to create more business partnerships. It already has a food collection partnership with Tesco.
Source – The Guardian, 23 Apr 2015
Energy firm Npower is planning to open fuel banks offering vouchers for free gas and electricity to the poor.
They would operate alongside existing food banks which give three days’ worth of donated food to those in need.
The proliferation of food banks has been controversial and it has been at the centre of the Labour Party’s attack on the Coalition. The arrival of fuel banks is likely to intensify the political furore.
The step may also be interpreted as an attempt by one energy giant to stem criticism of its pricing from consumer groups and the threat of a price cap from Labour.
Npower, one of the Big Six energy companies which dominate the market, aims to open fuel banks in a series of pilot programmes across the country which are likely to be up and running over the summer.
The company is understood to be in the process of signing agreements with partners to operate the scheme.
Those people judged to be in need of help would be given a voucher to put towards energy costs. It is expected to pay for energy lasting the average household ‘about two weeks’, said a source close to the company. Npower declined to comment.
The source said: ‘They could do this three times a year and it would be available not just for our customers but anybody, no matter who their supplier is.
‘The idea is that we run this for six months over the summer so we can be sure we administer this properly before we hit winter when demand is likely to increase.’
The energy company believes that those most likely to claim from its fuel banks are already on pre-payment energy meters. Comparison website uSwitch has said there are 5.9 million people who are on this type of meter.
A report from the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK published last December noted that the average price of gas, electricity and other fuels had increased by 153.6 per cent in Britain from 2004-2013 compared with 76 per cent in Germany and 59 per cent in France.
Vouchers which allow the less well off to obtain supplies from food banks can be obtained from social services, the service, doctors’ surgeries and schools. It is likely that fuel banks will be organised using similar arrangements.
The arrival of fuel banks is likely to ratchet up the pressure on the Coalition. In the TV debates David Cameron failed to answer questions from interviewer Jeremy Paxman on how many food banks there are and how rapidly they have grown.
According to Paxman, there were 66 when the Coalition came to power and there are now 421. However, there are no official figures and some estimate that the number of food banks is much higher.
Food banks fed almost a million people in 2014, according to figures from the Trussell Trust, the charity which operates many of them, though the figure has been disputed.
Many began offering ‘kettle boxes’ to those who cannot afford to switch on their cooker to boil foods like rice or pasta. The meals in the boxes can be prepared by adding boiling water. ‘Cold boxes’ of provisions including tinned food are also available and do not require any heating.
Source – Mailonline, 18 Apr 2015
The levels of long-term unemployment among young people in Sunderland has halved in the last year, new government figures show – but concerns remain about pay levels and job security in the city.
The North East as a whole has seen the largest annual employment increase of all UK regions according to the latest figures by the Office of National Statstics (ONS).
Employment in our region has been boosted by 54,000 people getting into work in the last 12 months.
The Labour Market statistics show the number of long-term claimants of Job Seekers’ Allowance in Sunderland among 18 to 24-year-olds is down 50 per cent year-on-year, with the number of short-term claimants dropping by 32 per cent. The number of claimants of all age groups saw a decrease of 31 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.
North East employer engagement manager for Job Centre Plus, Steve McCall, put the increase down to a number of Sunderland call centres, as well as care homes taking on new staff.
“It’s good to see the trend is going the right way,” he said.
“The likes of Sunderland have seen especially large increases in employment opportunities in call centres. Barclays, Npower, EE and 2Touch have been all been recruiting. It’s permanent, it’s full time, it’s part-time and short-term contracts. It’s a mix of employment opportunities coming up.
“It’s perhaps down to getting people to think about where their skills can find them work rather than concentrate on a specific career choice.
“It is also important to point out that there isn’t just call centres and care h omes. With the football starting again, along with major events at the Stadium of Light, we run courses in events cover and we also have a major retail employer coming to Sunderland this calendar year, which will be looking to recruit.”
> Strangely, Steve fails to mention people being sanctioned and those dumped into workfare-type situations – I’d bet a lot of that alledged drop in the youth figures is actually largely down to those.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 14 Aug 2014
That item attracted the following comment, from one Captain Charisma, on the Echo website, which is worth reposting here :
Great to see such colourful insight from JCP
“North East employer engagement manager for Job Centre Plus, Steve McCall, put the increase down to a number of Sunderland call centres, as well as care homes taking on new staff.”
Well that is an expansive insight there Steve, perhaps McDonalds had a vacancy too… who knows eh?
The job centre is not fit for purpose, they do not assist anyone in seeking employment, they merely sign job seekers off weekly and hope that they get referred to an employability company so they can come off ‘their books‘.
The employment advisors are useless and not fit for purpose. Steve McCall there who is an engagement manager in this article illustrates just how woefully inept they are as he has no knowledge of the local job market. He is guessing that call centres and a few care homes are the reason for employment surges. No figures or facts to back this up. Anyone with half a brain knows the call centres are now the biggest employers in the region and Steve’s lack of investigation into the drop in unemployment just showcases the failings of the job centre.
The employment figures are in no way to do with the job centre.
I have dealt with the job centre for two previous recruitment campaigns and they have been really unhelpful.
When I was recruiting for my accountant, I was told by a Job Centre plus advisor in Sunderland “We only get dregs from the manufacturing industry’s and rubbish call centre staff who can’t hold down jobs for more than 2 months through our doors”.
I was absolutely disgusted by their attitude. I have seen people from all levels go through the doors of the JCP in Sunderland and I was shocked by the flippant attitude of their staff, what hope do job seekers have if that is the attitude of their employment advisors. I ended up using a local agency who at least give my company a professional and consultative service!
Families will be forced to pay out a staggering £250bn to modernise Britain’s creaking water, gas, electricity and rail industries, a Teesside MP has warned.
Most of the massive cost of replacing the country’s ageing infrastructure is being added to household bills.
It means energy bills, which have already shot up, are set to increase by a fifth by 2030, on top of the effects of inflation.
Redcar MP Ian Swales was part of a Commons inquiry which looked at the way improvements to the nation’s utilities and transport networks were funded.
He warned that Government red tape was making it difficult for new businesses such as energy companies to get started – making it easier for the existing energy giants to charge sky high prices.
Speaking as MPs quizzed Government officials, he said: “Based on all the investors to whom I have talked – none of whom are the big six, which is an important point – we want to try to break the pseudo-monopolies.
“If we have people who want to invest, surely we should be making it as easy as possible for them.”
The so-called big six energy firms include E.On, EDF, SSE, Scottish Power, British Gas and Npower.
But Government rules made it almost impossible for new firms to enter the market, he said.
He urged civil servants in the Department of Energy and Climate Change to take action, telling one official: “In my constituency there are four potential power station investments right now, three of which are for fossil fuels.
“If you talk to all those investors, they will tell you that they feel like giving up because the system is almost impossible to deal with.”
The MP is one of the authors of a report which warns the UK is set to spend more than £375bn to replace infrastructure.
This includes replace assets such as rail track or waterworks which are simply too old; replace assets which don’t comply with EU regulation; introducing new facilities which cause less pollution, and catering for a growing population.
Around two-thirds of this will be paid for by private companies – but that really means consumers will pay through higher utility bills and rail fares, MPs said.
They warned: “Energy and water bills have risen considerably faster than incomes in recent years, and high levels of new investment in infrastructure mean that bills and charges are likely to continue to rise significantly.”
The Government should act by ensuring there is real competition, which would encourage companies to keep prices down, and in some cases by simply setting the prices consumers can be charged, MPs said.
Source – Sunday Sun, 06 July 2014