Calls for emergency energy tariff to help poorest families cope with winter bills

Campaigners are calling for an emergency energy tariff to help struggling families cope with winter energy bills after it was revealed more than half Newcastle’s residents were worried about being cold in the coming months.

A group of health, poverty, housing and environmental organisations and academics have written to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to ask for an the tariff and have have suggested that this is fixed at the levels of energy bills in winter 2020/21. This would see eligible households’ monthly energy bills reduced by approximately £87 from current levels – a saving of around 46%.

A survey by the Warm This Winter campaign found that 58% of people living in Newcastle are concerned about heating their homes, with almost two thirds (62%) already want to put the heating on, but are worried about the cost.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, which is part of the campaign to introduce the tariff, said: “The reality of this winter is that, without support, we will be a nation sheltering in warm spaces, cowering in one room of our homes or wrapped up inside like the Michelin man. This should not be acceptable in a modern society. Failure by the Government to avert this cold homes crisis will lead to pressure on the NHS, a mental health catastrophe and additional winter deaths caused by living in cold damp homes.

“The proposed emergency energy tariff is a specific, targeted, time limited and practically possible intervention which the Chancellor can make to send direct help to households who are most at risk of living in cold damp homes. The Government should meet with charities and industry to finalise the details of the proposal. It can then use the opportunity of the Autumn Statement to send a clear message to the public that ministers understand their suffering and are prepared to help them stay warm this winter.”

The research suggests that, among those who will have to cut back on essentials to afford their energy bills or can’t afford them, the plans for an emergency energy tariff would provide them with enough financial support to enable them to avoid the worst of the winter crisis. Fi Waters, spokesperson for Warm This Winter, said: “As millions of households batten down the hatches and prepare for a miserable winter in cold damp homes, only the Government can now prevent a winter crisis. As well as this emergency tariff for those now priced out of the market, people want to see bills come down permanently, which is going to require Government action. We need to see beefed up programmes to insulate homes, more heat pumps fitted, which are cheaper to run, and more homegrown renewable energy built so we can get off expensive gas.”

Newcastle Citizens Advice last year warned that people could die in their cold homes, with customers on prepayment – or pay-as-you-go – meters the most vulnerable as they are literally left in the cold if they have no money to top up their meters.

“The price of energy is massively unaffordable for some people, who are taking desperate – and dangerous – risks to keep warm,” said a spokesperson from the CAB. “It is a terrible thing but last winter we are advising struggling families to concentrate on heating one room rather than the whole house to keep costs down. We are seeing a massive increase in people reducing the amount of money they are using to top up their meter or not topping it up at all, in other words self-disconnecting. This is very worrying and dangerous.”

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