Gas and electricity Updated:
It can't be denied that fuel prices have risen extortionately over the last few years, and although the Big Six made token price cuts at the start of the year, it won't have come as much consolation to those who are seriously struggling to stay afloat. In fact, fuel poverty is becoming a growing concern, with a worrying number of people being regularly cut off from their basic gas and electricity supplies because they can't afford to top-up their prepayment meters.
According to research from Debt Advisory Centre, a quarter of people questioned were reliant on pre-payment meters because they've experienced problems paying their bills or needed help to manage their energy spending, with 10% having been up to three months in arrears on their water, gas or electricity accounts.
However, despite pre-paid meters supposedly being an easier way to manage finances, many people are often unable to top up. In fact, 18% are cut off from their gas meter every few months, while as many as 7% lose their gas supply at least once a week because they can't afford to top up the energy key. It's a similar picture for electricity supply, with an estimated 4.7 million people regularly being cut off. Of those, 15% have their energy supply disconnected every few months, and 6% are cut off at least once a week.
"It's alarming to see how many families are struggling with fuel poverty," said Melanie Taylor, a spokeswoman for Debt Advisory Centre. "As customers on pre-paid meters typically pay more each year for their energy, this means that the poorest and most vulnerable people are often paying the highest prices. We would like to see more help given to these people so they can switch to better deals and climb out of fuel poverty."
Fuel poverty – defined in cases where households spend more than 10% of their income on fuel to keep their home in a satisfactory condition – is a growing concern, particularly given that so many people are regularly cut off from their energy supply. It's hoped that measures such as the Fuel Bank trial, which will run alongside food banks to give families credit to top-up their meters, will help to alleviate some of the issues, but if you're getting to the point of no return, it's important to take action.
One of the best things you can do is to hunt for a low-cost fixed rate energy tariff. Fixed rate deals will invariably work out as far cheaper than variable rate alternatives, and will almost always be better value than pre-paid meters, despite the reduced level of flexibility associated with them. Use our search tool to find the best deal for your area, and hopefully you'll be able to get back in control.
Disclaimer: Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time.
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