Fuel voucher scheme meets record demand as energy bills soar

Caption: WEEKEND CONTENT Exclusive: Fuel voucher program meets record demand as utility bills continue to skyrocket Pictures: PA/Getty

A fuel voucher scheme is seeing record demand as utility bills continue to skyrocket amid the cost of living crisis (Image: PA/Getty)

A charity that gives out fuel vouchers to people struggling to pay bills has seen a record surge in demand for six straight months.

The Fuel Bank Foundation supports between 1,400 and 1,500 people daily as the skyrocketing cost of living hits vulnerable households.

This week, the Chancellor announced measures from his mini-budget aimed at relieving the pressure on family coffers at record levels.

However, the Fuel Bank, which provides coupons through food banks and other organizations, warned that the worst is yet to come with more astronomical hikes this year.

Households are experiencing the biggest fall in living standards since records began in 1956, according to The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). A typical energy bill will rise to almost £2,000 from April and could rise by almost £1,000 further in October.

Fuel Bank spokesman Matthew Cole said: “Every month since October has been a record month in terms of demand.

“We’re seeing more people than ever accessing our services, around 1,400 to 1,500 people a day. It’s a huge number and it really scares me.

“Right now we are seeing a lot of people not being able to heat their homes even though it’s spring and the weather is getting warmer. In a few months, when it gets colder, their consumption will increase again and their situation will only get worse.”

Rishi Sunak’s measures include cuts to income tax and fuel tax, and doubling the budget support fund to £1billion to help the most vulnerable families with bills.

However, Mr Cole told Metro.co.uk that the toughest test is ahead, with the OBR forecasting the energy price cap to rise by a further 42% in October – a record £830 increase.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (12787205c) A view of an electronic smart meter device at a home in London, Britain February 3, 2022. Britain's energy regulator Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem ) will announce the energy price cap on February 3, with energy bills expected to increase by fifty percent. The UK Treasury is expected to announce a government-backed loan scheme to help ease rising energy bills for millions of homes. Millions of households in the UK face an increase in energy price cap, London, UK - 03 February 2022

Charities warn a cost-of-living crisis is resulting from pressures, including rising energy bills (Picture: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

“A real concern is that if the government does not provide adequate support to the people, we will enter a period of real turbulence on top of what we have already seen over the past 12 months,” he said.

“Besides the support promised in the mini-budget, the government needs to address the fact that household incomes and the supply of adequately insulated housing stock are not great, while energy costs are high in the world market.

“The Government must spend the next two or three months coming up with a battle plan to support around three million households it says are in need of help when bills average £1,200 a year.

“The number of people struggling is only going to increase with the huge hikes in fees and the challenge now is to get those people through the winter.


Rishi Sunak announced measures to alleviate fuel poverty in his spring statement before energy bills soar to record highs (Image: Getty)

“Those affected by energy poverty are affected in many different ways, from the inability to make themselves a cup of tea or take a bath, to the health effects of children becoming ill and staying out of school because their homes are too cold.

“It’s about so much more than being slightly chilly at home and we really need to understand that as a country.”

Carrie Leigh McLachlan told Metro.co.uk the relief efforts would make little difference as she faces astronomical price hikes while trying to care for her eight-year-old daughter Freya, who has cerebral palsy.

The single mum, 49, also has sons Oliver, 13, and William, 16, and daughter Jessica, 20, at her home in Wirral, Merseyside. She is a registered full-time carer for Freya as her parental responsibilities prevent her from working as a nurse.

“As a parent of a disabled child, my bills were already very high as Freya’s bedroom needs to be at a constant temperature to protect her health,” Carrie said. “A few hundred pounds a year won’t matter if we have the record increases next month and in October. My gas and electricity bills are already £273 a month and we are struggling as it is.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. I can’t understand why the government doesn’t levy a windfall tax on companies that rake in billions of pounds in profits while I struggle to heat my children’s room.

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The sharp increase in the cost of living is also reflected in official figures, according to which inflation hit a 30-year high in February.

Fuel prices have also risen to record highs due to global gas prices and rising demand and reduced production in the wake of the pandemic.

Attempts by Mr Sunak to ease the strain on household budgets included a pledge to cut the basic income tax rate from 20% to 19% before the end of the current parliamentary term in 2024.

He also used Wednesday’s spring declaration to announce a 5p per liter fuel tax cut by March next year.

Addressing “our most vulnerable households”, Mr Sunak said he would double the “targeted” support fund.

In a further step to lower energy bills, the Chancellor said he would remove VAT on materials such as solar panels, heat pumps and insulation, as well as wind and water turbines “thanks to Brexit”.

According to Mr Sunak, a family installing a solar panel saves £1,000 in taxes, followed by £300 on their energy bill a year.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock (12764805b) Photo taken on Jan. 17, 2022 shows a gas bill and some money in London, Britain. Soaring gas prices have sent shockwaves through the UK economy in recent months, spiking inflation and causing a cost of living crisis. As changes in wholesale prices are forced on consumers, households and low-income households in particular are feeling the budget squeeze for something as important as energy. As prices are expected to fall again after the winter and the impact will then diminish, there is increasing pressure on the government to seek solutions and rescue poor families as soon as possible. UK Energy Price Increases – 17th January 2022

Energy bills for millions of families are skyrocketing and another rise is expected in April (Image: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock)

The moves follow his pledge last month to provide most households with £350 this year, including a £150 council tax refund and a one-off £200 rebate on energy bills from October, to be paid back in installments.

Environment and poverty activists have largely welcomed the latest moves but said far more needs to be done to reduce bills and pollution. Labor has called for a windfall tax on energy company profits that will cut the average household’s energy bill by £200 a year.

A Government spokesman told Metro.co.uk: “We recognize the pressure people are facing with the cost of living which is why we have put together a £21billion support package.

“This includes a £150 tax refund from April and a further £200 rebate on energy bills in October to bring energy bills down quickly for the majority of households, while the energy price cap continues to protect millions of customers from volatile global gas prices .

“We will establish an energy supply strategy that will boost our renewable energy and nuclear power capacities to strengthen our domestic supply and help reduce energy costs.”

Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact josh.layton@metro.co.uk

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/03/27/fuel-voucher-scheme-meets-record-demand-as-energy-bills-soar-16346551/ Fuel voucher scheme meets record demand as energy bills soar

Justin Scacco

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