Keep Us Warm This Winter: Burney Express launches campaign calling for government to protect consumers from energy price hikes
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Soaring gas prices, removal of the Universal Credit uplift, and rising inflation – all set against the backdrop of a pandemic – could leave many having to decide between feeding their families and heating their homes in the coming months.
Today, the Burnley Express, along with our sister titles across JPI Media, is launching our Keep Us Warm This Winter campaign, calling on the government to ensure all necessary steps are taken to protect consumers, particularly the vulnerable and those on low incomes.
Energy watchdog Ofgem has said consumers can expect an average energy bill to rise £135 this winter on the back of a 250% surge in wholesale gas prices since the start of the year, although the exact amount will depend on the type of deal a household has.
A total of 6,507 families in Burnley – 16% of households – were already living in fuel poverty, according to government data, before this year's escalation.
Ofgem, along with business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, has assured consumers the energy price cap, which limits the rates a supplier can charge for their default tariffs, will remain in place despite mounting pressure from energy firms.
However, with further price rises predicted next spring and concern the cap could be abolished if wholesale gas prices continue to soar, the outlook, at least in the short-term, does not look promising.
This all comes alongside plans to remove Universal Credit claimants' £20 a week uplift, introduced by the government during lockdown, from next month.
If plans go ahead, the reduction – equivalent to £1,040 a year – will hit 12,776 people in Burnley.
Liam Demaine, from Burnley and Pendle Citizens Advice Bureau, said, factoring in energy price rises and the removal of the Universal Credit uplift, their average debt client would need to cut £57 from their monthly budget just to make ends meet. And that does not take into account rising inflation.
"Firstly, Universal Credit is supposed to reflect the minimum income people need to meet their basic needs," he said. "Energy prices are set to increase by at least £11 per month on average next month, yet state benefits will not be increasing to reflect this change in people’s essential spending.
"In essence, from October, the government will be asking people to survive on an income they know will not be sufficient to meet their needs.
"The impact of increased fuel prices will not stop at household energy bills. Shops and other businesses will see their overheads increase due to the higher energy prices. This will impact household budgets further, as increased costs will be passed onto consumers at a time when inflation is already expected to rise.
"Our data shows, on average, our debt clients since April 2020 had a budget surplus of £41.29 per month (£9.53 per week). After removing the £86.66 per month uplift, this leaves a deficit of £45.37.
"Once the energy price increase is factored in, our average debt client would need to cut £56.95 from their monthly budget to make ends meet, all while prices are expected to rise. We would ask which part of their household budget the government believes families should cut to meet this shortfall.
"The argument, in response to letters our office sent to MPs earlier this year, was that cutting £20 from Universal Credit will encourage people back into work. This completely ignores the fact some people cannot and never will be able to work, that around 40% of Universal Credit claimants are already in work, that a certain level of unemployment is expected in any economy and that unemployment is forecast to continue to rise into next year – hardly the fault of those claiming benefits."
Liam said Burnley and Pendle CAB would be imploring MPs to re-think their stance on Universal Credit, and urged anybody struggling to pay their bills in the meantime to contact the Citizens Advice helpline for specialist advice.
"We will be writing to our MPs again in the coming days, as we believe the government’s position on removing the Universal Credit uplift has become untenable and will leave our clients unable to meet their basic needs.
"Our advice to anyone struggling to pay their energy bills is to first contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133 for specialist advice. People should also check their eligibility for Winter Fuel Payments and the Warm Home Discount.
"The British Gas Energy Trust provides grants to anyone who is eligible, regardless of whether they are a British Gas customer. Other companies run similar schemes for their customers only.
"Those considered vulnerable can sign up to their supplier’s Priority Service Register – this includes pensioners and people with a disability. If anyone is behind with their bills, they should call Citizens Advice for debt advice on 01282 616 750 and choose option 1."