140,000 UK households can’t afford to top up their prepayment energy meters
New research from Citizens Advice has found that 140,000 households in Great Britain (around 400,000 people) have been left without gas or electricity because they didn’t have enough money to top up their prepayment meter. The vast majority of these households also contained a child or someone with a long-term health condition.
Of the 140,000 households who couldn’t afford to cover their energy costs:
- 50% had someone with a mental health condition
- 33% contained a young child
- 87% were in receipt of benefits
The charity is concerned by findings which show that only 9% of the above people contacted their supplier to discuss the issue. While many suppliers now offer access to discretionary credit, Citizens Advice says more needs to be done to ensure people are aware of the support that is available.
Citizens Advice is calling for a series of measures to ensure potentially vulnerable households at risk of self-disconnection are more easily identified, and prevented from living in cold and dark homes.
Cold and dark homes, stress and anxiety – the impact of self-disconnection
Although for some households self-disconnection is just a minor inconvenience, the impacts for many are much more severe. Half of those surveyed said that self-disconnection had negative physical and emotional impacts:
- 59% said they were left in cold homes
- 43% said they were left without lights
- 35% said they weren’t able to wash
- 17% said they felt ashamed or embarrassed
In the 2017-2018 financial year, North Tyneside Citizens Advice dealt with 884 issues with debt and arrears on clients’ fuel bills
One of the people Citizens Advice has helped with this problem is Tom (not his real name), who lives alone in a council property. He said:
“That’s really stressful if you run out of electric. Imagine, if you put yourself in your home and you’ve got no electric and you’ve got no gas so you’ve got no heating. You’ve got no entertainment, there’s nothing to do. You’re just sitting there waiting for the next day to come or until you can contact somebody. You feel depressed, you feel anxious, feel annoyed – all sorts of emotions.”
Suppliers and the Government must do more
The charity says that the localisation of emergency welfare and a lack of coordination between privately run schemes has resulted in a patchwork of support which can be difficult and confusing for people to access. It is calling on industry and the Government to take measures to reduce the impact of self-disconnection on vulnerable customers. Specifically, it is arguing that:
- Energy suppliers should review whether they have suitable systems in place to identify whether a household is at risk of harm from self-disconnection before a prepayment meter is installed, or where an existing prepayment meter customer has reported they have difficulty topping up their meter.
- Energy suppliers should put in place systems and processes to ensure that where vulnerable people are put onto prepayment meters that they are not left without supply.
- DWP and Jobcentres should explore ways to improve coordination with suppliers to ensure vulnerable customers are given help to prevent self-disconnection.
- Energy UK should use its upcoming Commission on Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances to conduct a review of the support available to vulnerable energy customers who ask for support when they’ve self-disconnected.