Responding to the implementation by British Gas of its price rises this week, which will affect nine million people, Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, says
17 August 2011
"Citizens Advice reports a 78% increase in hits to its website this July, from people looking for advice on how to save money on their energy bills, compared with a year ago.
"Citizens Advice Bureaux handled 104,000 fuel debt enquiries last year. For many of those that came to us for help, price was their main concern. The latest round of price hikes from fuel suppliers will be the final straw that drives them over the edge into serious debt and hardship. We already see cases of self-rationing and self-disconnection where people on low incomes who can't afford rapidly rising gas and electricity bills decide their only option is to go without the heating they need. Affordability is a huge problem facing energy consumers and addressing it needs to be at the top of Chris Huhne's priority list before we head in to the colder months.
"All fuel suppliers need to make it very clear to customers why it is necessary to raise prices by so much now. It’s also vital that they always treat vulnerable customers and those in financial difficulties sympathetically and fairly.
"We would urge anyone already in debt or worried about how they will pay their bill to get advice from their local Citizens Advice Bureau. We can help you make sure that you're on the cheapest deal that your supplier provides, look at whether you would be better off switching suppliers, and advise on the help available for making your home more energy efficient."
Since 2008, Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales have been working with OFGEM on the Energy Best Deal scheme to help people save money on their energy bills.
Just last week (w/c 8 August) a disabled couple in their fifties, on low incomes, and living in a damp and cold council house in a rural English community in the South West came to us for advice about their energy bills after their energy company notified them of a price rise.
They had been paying a monthly direct debit to an energy company of £170 for their heating costs. He says the only place where the house is warm is the living room and the kitchen, and they can't afford to heat upstairs. The energy company has just increased their monthly electricity cost to £250.
Client is very worried about the huge increase in fuel costs and impact of damp on his wife's health. So far he has managed his budget well but believes he will not be able to keep up with the price rises.
The client is now suffering from anxiety about not being able to pay heating costs, and the impact of damp on his wife's health. He said 'I really don't know how the heating bills are going to be paid this winter - I just haven't got the extra cash. £170 was already a lot.'
Citizens Advice was able to provide the client with information on energy grant schemes and discussed with him how to get the local council to help with the damp issue / other repairs and if necessary, to check that the grant application has been completed to his satisfaction.
Notes to editors
- The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more information in England and Wales see www.citizensadvice.org.uk
- The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality. For online advice and information see www.adviceguide.org.uk
- Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.9 million problems from April 2011 to March 2012. For full 2011/2012 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
- Out of 22 national charities, the Citizens Advice service is ranked by the general public as being the most helpful, approachable, professional, informative, effective / cost effective, reputable and accountable (nfpSynergy’s Brand Attributes survey, May 2010).
- Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,500 service outlets across England and Wales.