Around 140,000 British households have been left without gas or electricity in the last year because they cannot afford to top up their prepayment energy meter, a charity has found.
Citizens Advice said the vast majority of these households – around 120,000 – included people who could be vulnerable, such as children or those with a long-term health condition.
Of all the households that lost their supply because the money on their meter ran out, 50% included someone with a mental health condition, 33% had a young child and 87% were in receipt of benefits, the charity found.
Just 9% contacted their supplier to discuss the issue.
The charity said more needed to be dome to ensure people were aware that many suppliers ow offered access to discretionary credit.
It is calling for a series of measures to ensure potentially vulnerable households at risk of losing their supply are more easily identified and prevented from having to live in cold and dark homes.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said It unacceptable that so many vulnerable households are being left without heat and light.
For some people self-disconnection is easily managed, but for many others it is an extremely stressful experience that can have harmful physical and emotional effects.
While some suppliers are now offering support to prepayment meter customers, industry and the Government need to do more. We need better mechanisms to identify vulnerable customers, better coordination between suppliers and government agencies and we need suppliers to ensure that when people’s health is at risk alternative ways to pay are offered.
The best thing you can do is speak to your supplier to discuss ways to repay what you owe them.
Once notified, they have to help you come to a solution. You should try to negotiate a deal that works for both of you.
You could tell them you want to pay off your debts in instalments as part of a payment plan.
You’ll pay fixed amounts over a set period of time, meaning you’ll pay what you can afford. The payment plan will cover what you owe plus an amount for your current use.
You might be able to repay your debt directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.
A fixed amount will automatically be taken from your benefits to cover what you owe, plus an extra amount for your current use.
You may also want to consider switching to a cheaper deal or checking if you’re in credit at all.
If you don’t try to negotiate with your supplier, they might threaten to disconnect your supply.
There are also a number of energy companies who offer grants and schemes – you don’t have to be a customer.
If you’re disabled, elderly or you get benefits, check whether you can get other help paying your energy bills.
For more advice, see our guide on what to do if you can’t pay a bill.
Don’t block radiators Avoid putting the sofa in front of the radiator as it will absorb a lot of heat, preventing it from warming up the rest of the house.
Seal your doors Whack draught-excluding foam or rubber tape around your doors and any other cracks where the draught comes in. You can buy it at Wickes, B&Q and Homebase for around £5.
Make a rice sock You can buy teddies filled with rice and lavender that you heat in the microwave for a minute or so as a hot water bottle alternative. It’s a pretty efficient way of getting heat into something – certainly more energy efficient than boiling a kettle full of water. But instead of spending £20 on a shop bought one, fill a sock with rice and lavender, tie the end and you have your own hand warmer.
Shut the curtains Keeping them closed is a clever – and easy – way to keep the warmth locked in. Consider investing in thermal curtains for the rooms you use the most. They are not that expensive and if you don’t want to replace your current curtains you can just buy the thermal lining and attach it to your existing drapes. This alone can reduce heat loss by up to 25%.
Wrap up warm It goes without saying but the more layers you have on, the warmer you’ll feel.
Bleed your radiator ‘Bleeding radiators’ is when you let out air that has become trapped inside. Trapped air causes the radiators to have cold spots, reducing the efficiency of them. You can bleed your radiators yourself. To do so, follow these steps – 1) Turn on the heating 2) Once your radiators are hot, go and check each one individually to see if all parts of the radiator are warming up 3) Switch off your central heating. Attach your radiator key (you can buy one at your local hardware shop) to the square bit in the centre of your radiator’s valve. Slowly turn the radiator key anti-clockwise – if gas is escaping you’ll hear a hissing sound. Once there is no more gas, liquid will come out and the valve will need to be closed quickly.
Turning down the thermostat Turning it down by 1 degree could cut your heating bills by up to 10 per cent and save you around £85 a year according to Energy-uk.org.
News Source MirrorNews