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Energy companies must do more to help cash-strapped consumers

A new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) calls on suppliers and regulators to better target help for people who have difficulty meeting the ever rising costs of heating their homes. With household energy bills now double what they were in 2004; CAS says that energy companies and the Scottish and UK Governments must do more to support struggling consumers.

The report finds that in the financial year 2011/12 a total of 7,400 Scots came to their citizens advice bureau (CAB) for help with 9,500 energy issues. Almost 40% of these clients came to bureaux for help with energy debts, with 83% of them saying they were having problems making payments.

Analysis of clients with energy debts shows that they are more likely than the average CAB client and the wider population to be young, single white females with caring responsibilities, living in social rented housing. They are also likely to be unemployed or too ill to work and their main source of income is likely to be from benefits.

The report calls on energy companies to take a number of steps to help customers who are struggling to pay their bills. These include:

  • fixing prepayment meters at the cheapest tariff the company offers; 
  • taking into account problems faced by customers whose only income is from benefits, particularly in light of welfare changes;
  • notifying customers of arrears as early as possible and establishing affordable repayment plans

CAS is also calling on the governments in London and Edinburgh to better target support for vulnerable consumers in light of the report’s findings.

CAS Policy Officer Sarah Beattie-Smith, who compiled the report, says:

“The evidence from Citizens Advice Bureaux across Scotland clearly shows that the high cost of energy is causing huge problems for people across the country. CAB advisers see people every day who are forced to choose between heating and eating. We know that difficulty paying for energy can make other problems worse, pushing people into debt, worsening existing health conditions and adding to the stresses and strains of everyday life at a particularly difficult economic time.

“CAS will now be contacting the energy companies with our findings and will be seeking to discuss the measures they can take to help their customers. We recognise that energy companies and governments here in Scotland and at UK level have already taken some very welcome steps to support consumers who have trouble meeting the high costs of energy. 

“However more can and must be done to help Scots heat their homes this winter and in years to come.”