Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action has revealed that over £440 million allocated to support vulnerable households with their energy bills went unspent last winter.
Holding a session on ‘Preparing for the Winter’ last week, NEA told MPs that the poor delivery of government schemes such as the Energy Bills Support Scheme caused the allocated money to remain unspent according to the fuel poverty charity’s analysis.
The session followed another announcement by the NEA warning that an estimated 6.3 million households will be in fuel poverty this winter without the support of last year’s support schemes such as the Energy Price Guarantee.
“Despite the generosity of government support, what we saw [last winter] at National Energy Action was impossible levels of energy debt, dangerous coping mechanisms and an explosion of mental health problems. People not washing clothes for their children, people not having hot showers or baths, not heating their homes, using barbecues to cook their food, borrowing from neighbours and friends which they can’t afford to repay,” said chief executive of NEA, Adam Scorer, speaking to the committee.
“A million households who were due for support from the different bill mechanisms didn’t get it and £440 million went back to the Treasury that should have gone into people’s pockets. As a minimum, that money should be reinvested into directly reducing energy bills for vulnerable people this winter.”
Concern over increased fuel poverty numbers in the UK were echoed following the announcement of the Q4 energy price cap last month. Set to be enforced on 1 October 2023, the new tariff will be £151 lower than the current cap, but still over £700 more than the pre-energy crisis levels.
Now that vulnerable households can no longer rely on support schemes many members of the energy industry have expressed concern over the struggles households will face this winter to pay their energy bills.
“Despite the huge support the government put in last winter, the crisis will be worse this winter. Whether they like it or not, government will have to come forward with a package of support to reduce energy bills for the most vulnerable this year,” added Scorer.
“The level of energy debt is also so extreme now, and is destroying so many lives, we must have a ‘help to repay scheme’ that helps people accelerate their way out of energy debt. We can’t get back on an even keel in the energy market without tackling the 70% increase in energy debt from 2020 to 2023. We also need longer-term mechanisms; the government must meet its commitment to consult on a social tariff and other mechanisms to bring prices down for vulnerable households to pre- crisis levels.”