Jo Swinson MP welcomes the joint Consumer Focus/Citizens Advice campaign which aims to help advise people who are falling behind with their energy bills.
Many people face the challenge of how to afford to keep their home warm this winter. 50% of people in Scotland are unsure whether they can afford to pay their energy bills this winter according to the watchdog Consumer Focus.1
The most recent figures show that new cases of household energy debts nationwide have increased by 20%.2 Consumer Focus and Citizen’s Advice are concerned that many more people will be pushed into debt to their energy supplier this winter, with average price increases of 14% hit homes. The organisations have launched the new awareness campaign – ‘Plug the Debt’ – to help people know what to do and what their rights are when they fall behind on their energy bills.
Commenting, Jo said:
“With many of my constituents worrying about affording their energy bills this is a very timely campaign.”
“It is clearly worrying that the number of people with debts on energy bills is set to rise and these people need to get the right help.”
Worryingly around half of people in the UK don’t know their energy supplier has to help them if they fall into debt on their energy bills. Jo wants to let her constituents know that help is out there and to urge people to contact their energy company or local Citizens Advice Bureau if they are having problems paying their bills.
Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus, said:
‘A toxic cocktail of higher energy prices, rising bills for other essentials and falling incomes could push more people into debt with their energy company this winter. ‘We want people to know that help is out there. We’d urge people to get in touch with their energy firm as soon as they think they might have problems before debts start to spiral. You can also get in touch with Citizens Advice or the Home Heat Helpline to find out how you can cut your bills.’
Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice Chief Executive, said:
‘Each year we help thousands of people who are in debt because they can’t afford their fuel bills. Hikes in prices are making a tough time much harder for many. We urge people to check that they aren’t missing out on any benefits or tax credits that could ease the pressure on their finances – and if they are in debt to get help immediately.’
Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice are making people aware of the following 5 top tips if they fall behind with their bills:
1. Always contact your energy supplier as soon as you realise you might have trouble with paying. Debts will build-up and be harder to pay off the longer you leave them. Your supplier has a responsibility to help you if you have problems paying your bill.
2. Tell your energy firm what you can afford to pay – they have to take this into account in agreeing repayments of the money you owe.
3. Ask your energy company, your local Citizens Advice Bureau or call the Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 to find out about other free energy help available. For example you could qualify for a discount off your bill or free insulation to help your home stop leaking heat and cut your bills.
4. Even if you are in debt you may still be able to switch to a cheaper dealwith your current supplier, especially if you pay by cash, cheque or pre-payment meter. If you pay by pre-payment meter and have less than £200 of debt you can also switch to a cheaper deal with another supplier.
5. Financial help is available which could make it easier to afford your bills– check you are receiving all of the benefits and tax credits you are entitled to by getting in touch with your local Citizens Advice Bureau or visitingwww.adviceguide.org.uk.
Anyone who wants to find out more about getting help or advice through the ‘Plug the Debt’ campaign should visit www.consumerfocus.org.uk/plugthedebt or contact their local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Notes to editors
1. Omnibus research was carried out by TNS Omnibus on behalf of Consumer Focus on a face to face basis. The polling was carried out between 30thSeptember – 4th October (with 1526 individuals aged 16yrs+) and 28th October – 1st November 2011 (with1394 individuals aged 16yrs+)
2. Following energy price increases of around 7% last winter, the number of people in Britain with new energy debts increased by over a quarter for electricity and a fifth for gas, in spring 2011. Source – Ofgem, comparing Q1 2010 and Q2 2011 energy debt figures. Although overall debt figures had not changed substantially since the same period last year, new debts were substantially up. The average amount owed was £320 on gas and £309 on electricity.