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During this energy bills crisis, remember that help is available

by Derek Mitchell, CAS Chief Executive.

This column was first published in the Herald on 6 December 2021.

As you’ll have read in the news pages, today we’ve launched our Big Energy Saving Winter campaign, which encourages people to get advice amid soaring energy prices.

It comes after months of turmoil in the energy market, with Bulb being the biggest supplier so far to go out of business. The spike in global gas prices saw suppliers sell energy at unsustainable losses and that has led to a shrinking of the market, meaning not only less consumer choice but also bigger bills.

In October the energy price cap, put in place to protect consumers, rose by a record amount, just as people faced a perfect storm of rising inflation and falling incomes due to things like the reduction of Universal Credit by £20 per week.

As we reveal today, this all adds up to more than 1 in 3 of us finding bills unaffordable.

In polling for CAS by YouGov, people blamed rising energy prices and the cost of living, but also hard to heat homes and low incomes. Given there’s likely to be another rise in the Spring which on average will add around another £500 to bills, this situation will only get worse.

When we speak about energy bills in the winter, and Scotland’s unacceptable levels of fuel poverty, you’ll often see the cliché around “heating or eating”. But what feels like a cliché in the pages of a newspaper is the reality for too many people. 1 in 4 households were in fuel poverty before the pandemic, and as the snow begins to fall in parts of Scotland they face an incredibly rough winter.

In previous years this campaign would have encouraged people to “switch and save”. But due to the crisis in the market, the official advice is not to switch as many people will end up on a higher tariff.

Our campaign is about offering people solutions. Because that’s the good news: there is real help available. We want to ensure that people know they don’t have to feel powerless in the face of soaring bills.

There are various ways we can help them save energy, that’ll have the benefit of saving the planet as well - something to consider with COP 26 fresh in our minds.

CABs can also unlock money for people through things like social security, employment entitlements and debt reductions. In fact during the pandemic our network unlocked around £147m for people in Scotland.

So our campaign is all about making people aware of this help so they can access it.

You’ll possibly see your local CAB out in your community in the next few weeks, pushing the same message. Hopefully we’ll manage to provide some relief to at least some of the people who are suffering the cold.

So please help spread the message of our campaign. Tell your friends and family about it, re-tweet us (@citadvicescot), and if you’re in a position to amplify it in any other way, please do.

In the longer term, we need policies ensure consumers are protected and bills don’t eat up as much of people’s household income.

Until then the CAB network is here to help, as we have for over 80 years.