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Fuel Bank charity boss warns MPs of impending winter fuel crisis

September 6, 2023

Fuel Bank charity boss warns MPs of impending winter fuel crisis Featured Image

The UK is heading for another winter fuel crisis without further energy bill support from government, the head of Fuel Bank Foundation has warned MPs.

Matthew Cole, who was giving evidence at today’s Energy Security and Net Zero (ESNZ) Select Committee inquiry on preparing for the winter, said more needed to be done to help vulnerable customers and called on the Government to provide further financial support, targeted at low-income households and those with high energy costs or usage.

Last month, energy regulator Ofgem announced a reduction to the energy price cap for the last quarter of 2023 (1 October – 31 December), with the level for the average dual fuel household paying by direct debit set at £1,923 and £1,949 for prepayment meter customers. But despite the price cap reduction, energy bills are still double what they were before the global energy crisis.

With energy bills set to remain high over the winter, we are extremely concerned about the impact this will have on the millions of people who already can’t afford to pay their bill or top up their prepayment meter. Household budgets are being stretched to the absolute limit, with higher food, rent and mortgage bills contributing to the problem.
Matthew Cole, Head of Fuel Bank Foundation

Speaking at the Select Committee inquiry, Mr Cole said: “Many people are also still paying off debt accrued from last year. Throw in further high energy bills this winter and the results for millions of households already in fuel crisis could be catastrophic.”

Mr Cole urged the Government to help those most in need by repeating the Energy Bill Support Scheme* (EBSS), but only making it available to specific vulnerable groups.

“Although we appreciate that many UK households were concerned about how they would afford their spiralling energy bills last winter, the EBSS should have been targeted at those who particularly struggle to keep warm, such as the disabled, low-income, homes with higher heating costs, as this is where the greatest impact of the subsidies would have been felt, rather than being given to everyone, many of whom didn’t need the financial support.

“As well as being more targeted, the EBSS payments should also match the need, rather than being split equally each month. Energy usage is higher in January than in October, for example, meaning a higher payment in January would be more beneficial.

“The logistics of how payments are provided, especially to those with prepayment meters, also needs to be addressed, as this was a major flaw in the system last time, with millions of PPM customers missing out. Ideally, credit should automatically be applied to the meter, rather than the onus being on the customer to do it, as this can be problematic for people with a physical or mental disability.”

Mr Cole said that whilst some energy suppliers have improved customer service, there is a general need to raise standards across the industry, particularly in respect of being proactive when dealing with vulnerable customers.

Energy suppliers need to understand which of their customers are at higher risk and proactively reach out to them to ensure that prepaying for energy continues to be safe and practicable, and that all available support is being accessed.
Matthew Cole, Head of Fuel Bank Foundation

He added: “It should be incumbent on the supplier to proactively review customer circumstances and behaviour to satisfy themselves that they are not in any financial difficulty or risking their health as a result, rather than relying on the customer to contact them.

“Lastly, customers should be able to easily contact their supplier via a channel that’s suitable for them and get practical, actionable advice. This should be a bare minimum for all suppliers as part of their customer service standards.”