Gas and electricity Updated:
The weather may be getting warmer, but for many families, the "heat or eat" crisis hasn't gone away. Many of those on prepayment meters have had to self-disconnect their gas and electricity supply because they simply can't afford it, but happily, npower has stepped in to help.
On Friday, npower launched a three-month trial of the UK's first Fuel Bank, which will support those households most in need by giving them funds to pay for their gas and electricity. The initiative will give those families a £49 credit to top up their gas and electricity meter, enough to keep the lights and heating on for up to two weeks.
The scheme, run in partnership with charities The Trussell Trust, National Energy Action and Durham Christian Partnership, will be piloted at 21 locations across the country, helping an estimated 13,000 people in the first year. The Fuel Banks will be placed in existing food banks and the vouchers available to those who are in crisis, and it's hoped that the scheme will be extended nationwide in the future.
The scheme is intended to help those who are truly in need, following research from Citizens Advice that found one in every six households with a prepayment meter have had to self-disconnect in order to save money – according to their figures, this means that up to 1.62m people go without gas or electricity every year.
The scheme could be an "important breakthrough", said Matthew Cole of npower, and could ensure that those who are in true difficulty will have immediate support. David McAuley, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, added: "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."
However, despite the scheme itself being widely applauded, there are concerns that it doesn't solve the root cause of the problem – that the cost of energy is simply too high, which means it's time to take matters into your own hands. Mark Todd, director of energyhelpline.com, commented:
"While the scheme is a positive initiative to alleviate the heat or eat dilemma facing Britain's poorest, it doesn't address the real problem: consumer energy prices are too high. In the last five years, energy bills have risen by over 50%. The UK energy market is crippling millions in this country and the people that suffer the most are our poorest.
"The tiny price drops the Big Six made earlier this year were a token gesture. They averaged 2.5% while wholesale prices plummeted by over 20%, so the energy giants are currently much more profitable now than they were this time last year. It's unfair that this happens at the expense of ordinary families in Britain, who face an upward struggle to afford their bills.
"We urge energy companies to address the real issue of consumer prices. Nobody should be priced out of heating their home and forced to shiver in silence. People can also take a simple step to switch to a cheaper tariff that could save them up to £405 a year. If you don't switch, it's only your energy supplier who is going to get rich."
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