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
"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, the Citizens Advice consumer service 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 see the Citizens Advice website.
- 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.
- To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
- You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
- Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
- Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.