Charities have warned that the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable people risk losing the energy bill support and cost of living payments they are entitled to, due to a lack of clarity on what is available from government and how to get it.
Under the energy bills support scheme announced by Rishi Sunak when he was a consultant, all households are eligible for a £400 energy bill discount, payable in six instalments starting last month.
The discount should be automatically applied to most customers, while those using traditional prepaid counters are supposed to get either vouchers or automatic credit at top-up points. But the National Energy Action (NEA) charity says there is a “significant risk” that households on older prepaid meters will not be able to redeem the vouchers, some of which it says have been dealt with the wrong name, or with incorrect details.
Meanwhile, Food Bank employees told L.L.C observer They see huge confusion around both the energy bill subsidy and the £650 cost of living payment – which is meant to be paid in two instalments for those on low income benefits and tax breaks. They say many have not received the payments they are entitled to.
The warnings come as government data shows 42% of vouchers for customers with old prepaid meters have yet to be redeemed, the NEA says, warning that this could be an “alarming early indication that those most in need may be missing out”. These families face “significant challenges in accessing this government support, despite being very vulnerable,” said Peter Smith, director of policy at the NEA.
We found coupons being sent with the wrong name or incorrect personal details. Because [in-store payment service] Payzone does not participate in the scheme, some customers have to travel long distances to reach support” observeradding that the charity was urging people with older meters to contact their suppliers themselves.
“We are also talking with the government about what contingency can be taken to ensure these clients receive equivalent support if the recovery rate does not improve before the end of March, when the program is due to end,” he added.
Charlotte White, director of the Earlsfield Food Bank in southwest London, said she had to help several people – many of whom had no internet access and were sitting at home in the dark in coats – to get their payments.
“It’s very confusing, so a lot of people will be turned away, and it’s really frustrating when the onus falls on the people themselves,” she said. “It’s not just the support that’s available, it’s really important how easy and fast people can access that support.”
The problem, she said, is not just choosing to eat over heating, but the fact that many people have to drastically ration their electricity consumption.
People, she said, “sit in the dark and sit with blankets and limit the rooms of the house they use.” White said a woman she spoke to this week was sleeping in her dining room to keep the heat down.
Citizens Advice has also reported three major issues with people trying to use coupons for traditional prepaid counters. “People are confused about the support being offered this winter. People have not received their vouchers in the mail; It’s getting colder.”
The government has been contacted for comment.