Adam Scorer calls for 'targeted financial support' on energy bills
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Over a million households did not receive the Government’s energy bill discount for December as the UK plunged into subzero temperatures amid a brutal cold snap. The Government pledged to make a £400 energy bill discount available for every UK household this winter to help alleviate the impacts of surging energy prices. But for homes on prepayment meters, the process of claiming the monthly discount vouchers is proving to be a challenge.
People on direct debit accounts receive the monthly discount automatically, without them having to do a thing. But prepayment meter customers, many of whom are vulnerable and are on low incomes, must redeem vouchers at their local top-up points.
However, a vast number of Britons have not received the vouchers in the post this month, meaning an eye-watering amount of cash has gone down the drain. According to the firms where prepayment customers can cash in the vouchers, postal strikes may have triggered a delay to some deliveries.
In the UK, around two million energy customers are on prepayment meters. Three quarters of the eligible people are supposed to receive their vouchers in the post, while the remaining quarter get them via email or SMS. These can be redeemed at people’s local post office or cashed at shops that are in the PayPoint network, with around half redeemed at each.
But Paypoint said that in Ocotber, only 80 percent of vouchers were redeemed, plunging to 73 percent in November. For December, a shocking 27 percent of vouchers were cashed at PayPoint stores by December 18.
Steve O’Neill, director of corporate affairs at PayPoint, told the BBC: “December vouchers issued by email have already seen high levels of redemption, though December postal voucher redemptions are lower than we would expect, which could be linked to strike action in the UK causing delayed delivery.
Meanwhile, the Post Office said 70 percent of vouchers were claimed for October 19 and November 19, but this plummeted to 63 percent by December 19. This came as a brutal snap saw several parts of the UK get plunged into subzero temperatures as snow blanketed the country.
Earlier this month, Express.co.uk spoke to Sharleen Holiday, a 41-year-old from Middlesborough who is yet to receive a discount voucher from her supplier British gas. She said the situation is impacting her severe mental health problems. She lives in a flat with her carer and she said the pair are surviving on one meal every three days at times just to keep warm.
She told Express.co.uk: “To date, I still haven’t received my first lot of vouchers, never mind my third lot. I’m still left in limbo, still left with nothing. I’m putting £90 a week on the electricity and I can’t afford to keep doing it. We are getting pushed from pillar to post.
“It’s getting to the point where we are having one meal every three days if we are lucky so we can keep the electricity on. Some days we go without anything just to put the gas on. We have no family support to get financial help.
“It’s as though with us being on legacy benefits we don’t matter. My mental health has dramatically been affected by the worry and stress of me being able to afford to put the gas and electricity on each month.”
Now, a group of organisations including Which?, Citizens Advice, Age UK and Money Saving Expert and Fuel Poverty National Energy Action, have written a letter to the Government and CEOs urging them to take action.
The letter, which is addressed to Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps reads: “We are writing to raise our serious concern that vital Government help with energy bills is not reaching hundreds of thousands of people who need it most.
“We urge you to take immediate action so that customers can access this vital support as the cold weather sets in and puts vulnerable groups, including older and disabled people, at greater risk of health difficulties and even death.”
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Citizens Advice told the BBC that, during the first week of the cold snap, more referrals for emergency energy vouchers and charitable support than ever before. Over 4,300 referrals were made between December 5 and 12, a 1,200 increase from the previous week.
A spokesperson from Ofgem, the Government’s energy regulator, said: “Protecting consumers is our priority, and we want to make sure everyone eligible is cashing in their vouchers and getting the extra help for their bills. We’ve been working hard with Government, charities, the ombudsman and suppliers to make sure this happens – and, as energy regulator, we have requested suppliers take all reasonable steps to support customers with their energy support vouchers.
“Our energy aware campaign has been promoted through local councils and leading charities- and has useful information on for customers about how to get their voucher. We take our compliance role over the EBSS vouchers very seriously and have a dedicated team working with suppliers to ensure EBSS payments get to consumers.
“We have regular individual meetings with all suppliers to track progress, understand blockers and discuss actions being taken.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “We want to ensure everyone gets the energy support they’re entitled to which is why the Energy Secretary wrote to suppliers earlier this month making clear that he expects them to improve their service to customers.
“The latest statistics show that 99 percent of Energy Bills Support Scheme prepayment meter vouchers have been issued and while redemption rates increased in November to 72 percent, we want to see this increase further.
“We are continuing to work with suppliers to ensure prepayment meter customers are aware of where they can locate vouchers sent to them and can easily access advice if they require help redeeming them.”
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