Cost of living crisis: what Lancashire councils are doing to help people cope with rising energy bills

Residents across Lancashire are bracing themselves for further energy prices rises this winter.

Households already owe £1.3 billion to their energy suppliers two months before bills are set to soar by more than 80%  Photo: Danny Lawson  PA
Households already owe £1.3 billion to their energy suppliers two months before bills are set to soar by more than 80% Photo: Danny Lawson PA

With many already in fuel poverty – defined as having to spend more than 10 per cent of income on energy bills – the expected October hike will hit households already struggling with rising food and petrol prices.

The UK’s energy price cap for households is forecast to hit £4,266 in January and The Cornwall Insight consultancy advised this week that average gas and electricity bills could first soar to £3,582 per year in October, before rising higher in 2023.

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We asked Lancashire County and local borough councils what steps they are taking now to help support people who can no longer cope with soaring energy bills.

Households across the county are feeling the pinch

Lancashire County Council

As the cold bites and heating bills soar this winter Lancashire County Council is aware many people may seek refuge in warm public buildings. Libraries and museums could see an increase in visitors. A cross-party task group was set up last month to look at how the council can adopt best practice and deliver “warm hubs and welcoming space schemes”.

Meanwhile the council has distributed funds to local (borough) councils with a £1m Affordable Warmth Scheme approved on July 14 to help some local residents improve home insulation and heating.

County Coun Michael Green, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: "Living in a cold home can have a number of negative impacts on your health and wellbeing. That is why we are taking and exploring a number of responsible measures with our partners to support our residents this autumn and winter. We are also making £1 million available to our district council colleagues to enable them to improve the insulation and heating systems in homes across Lancashire, which will, in turn, improve the health and wellbeing of our residents."

With gas prices soaring, the average household may be forking out £4000 a year.

A cross-party task force is due to meet in early September, preparing draft proposals for cabinet on September 8 and final proposals will go to the county council on October 6.

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Preston City Council

The Council said it is offering a number of avenues of support to residents to help them through the energy and cost of living crisis, including:

Funding is available as part of Household Support Fund, Round 2 and applications are open to residents to help with essentials such as access to energy, water and food. The council is also signed up to the Cosy Homes in Lancashire initiative which provides advice and in many cases physical improvements to the energy efficiency of people’s homes especially those on low incomes. For more wide-ranging information to signpost, help and support Preston residents see helpinpreston.com

Petrol prices have hit record highs this year
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Council leader Coun Matthew Brown said: “Times are tough for everyone but it’s residents on low and middle incomes who are feeling the effects of rising prices the most. With energy bills set to rise yet again, we must face the fact that there will be residents of Preston who have to choose whether to heat or eat this winter and would call on the government to do more much more.

"The Council’s frontline services play a vital role in supporting residents every day, particularly through these rough times. When our budgets have been stretched for so long, there’s only so much a local authority can do on its own. We therefore will continue to seek out funding opportunities and work with partner organisations and the voluntary sector to help people get all the help they can.”

South Ribble Council

South Ribble Council says it is aware that the cost of living crisis will have an impact not just on pockets but also on people’s mental health.

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Coun Aniela Bylinski Gelder, cabinet member for communities, social justice and wealth building said: "Our message to anyone in our community is that you are not alone. Please get in touch with us if you need some additional support and we will help. You can call us on 01772 625 625.

"The cost-of-living crisis is affecting so many of our residents, some of whom have never before found themselves in this position...The crisis reaches much further than people struggling to pay bills; all this uncertainty and worry has a real impact on mental health and wellbeing. Supporting our community through this difficult time is our utmost priority and we want people to know the council is here for them.”

South Ribble offers support through its Household Support Fund, working with Citizens Advice to offer people financial support with gas, electricity and water charges.

Support is available to make energy efficient adaptations to homes, such as replacement windows or loft insulation.

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Meanwhile, the council’s Fair Collection Charter pledges that instead of using enforcement for non-payment, a fair and sensible approach will be taken to support an individual or business to get help.

Chorley Borough Council

Councillor Bev Murray, Executive Member (early Intervention), urged residents to contact the council to see how it can help.

She said: "We understand that many of our residents are being affected by the cost-of-living crisis and need additional support. We're dedicated to trying to help everyone in our community and we have a number of ways we can support. We can signpost to help with energy bills, debt advice and everyday cost of living worries. If you are struggling or want to know more about what additional support is available, please contact us to see if we can help”

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Chorley council is supporting the delivery of over £300,000 towards energy payment support It asks local residents to call the council on 01257 515151 or visit www.chorley.gov.uk/chorleytogether to see how they can get support The council is supporting children from low-income families through the Holiday Activity Food Programme and a uniform swap initiative.” The council says it is linked in with dozens of national and local support organisations which we can signpost residents to for further support. The council’s Fair Collection Charter favours support over enforcement of bill collection for those struggling to pay council tax and other council bills.

Wyre Council

Wyre Council will be distributing Household Support Funding to its neediest residents and cited the national Council Tax rebate, announced in February, for those in bands A – D as one way it is helping its residents. It says funds will be distributed over the next few weeks to the neediest 9,000 households.

A spokesperson said: “In addition to the £150 council tax rebate, we have received an additional £430,000 from the Government, (via Lancashire County Council), for a second round of Household Support Funding.

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“This money is to be used to provide financial assistance to those on the lowest incomes and most badly affected by the cost of living increases. The money from this fund is to be pooled with some of the £266,000 also provided by the Government, to fund a discretionary energy rebate scheme to help those on low incomes struggling to pay their household fuel bills. The pooled funding will be distributed over the coming weeks to approximately 9,000 households who claim localised council tax support from the council.”

Ribble Valley Borough Council

Ribble Valley Borough Council says it is helping people with Council Tax and energy rebate payments as well as delivering Household Support Fund payments.

Leader Coun Stephen Atkinson said: “In April, we fundamentally changed our Council Tax support scheme, so that over 1,000 local households no longer have their support reduced by 12 per cent, which is worth up to £160 on some band A properties and makes us one of only a few boroughs in Lancashire with no reduction in Council tax support.

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“In addition to the Government’s one-off £150 ‘energy rebate’, which we have paid to a significant number of our 19,000 band A to D households, our discretionary energy rebate scheme is delivering further financial support to vulnerable residents living in higher band properties. We are also delivering the household support fund of £120,000, which will see pensioners in receipt of council tax support receive a further £90.”

Lancaster City Council

Lancaster city council says it will be listing opening times and locations of publicly accessible locally-based County Council buildings and others which are free of charge and offer a warm and welcome place where people can keep warm and comfortable this autumn and winter.

Its Community Connector team will be working with voluntary, community, faith and community enterprise organisations to investigate which venues may offer help.

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It will use the bulk of its £555,000 its Household Support Fund to support its 3,700 pensioners in receipt of Council Tax support. Some £150,000 will be used to give food provision to vulnerable households . Remining cash will go to the Lancaster District Support Fund.

In addition £347,000 of Council Tax Hardship funding will be administered through the Community Hub and the council has an energy rebate scheme.

An Energy Support Officer will support residents with energy saving advice and support with access to grants.