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The Common Room in Cambridge Road opposite ESK where Energise Sussex Coast holds advice sessions every Thursday afternoon.

Rising prices prompt more to seek energy advice

The recent rise in energy costs, part of a significant increase in the cost of living, puts many lower-income families, in Hastings as elsewhere, at serious risk of not being able to heat their homes this winter. The severe squeeze is worrying local energy consultants Energise Sussex Coast, but there are still some sources of help they can offer to hard-pressed residents. Nick Terdre reports.

With gas supplies pressured by rising demand, energy prices are on the increase and prices to the consumer have inevitably  gone up. This development, which to date has caused 21 suppliers to go bust, has forced Ofgem, the energy watchdog, to lift the cap on retail energy prices. Another raising of the price cap will take place next spring, leading to forecasts of an increase in overall domestic fuel bills of several hundred pounds on an annual basis.

“We’re really worried about how this will affect people,” Energise Sussex Coast’s energy adviser Kate Meakin told HOT. “It’s not just fuel – with the ending of Covid era advantages, lots of costs are going up at the same time.” The £20 a week uplift in universal credit which had benefited many low-income families since the Covid pandemic struck has gone, the price of many foodstuffs has gone up, and the end of the ban on evicting private renters opens the way for many landlords to raise their rents knowing they can evict families who can’t afford them.

“Many people are now facing serious energy debt, and there is less help available to them,” Kate said. “Previously the energy companies were quite lenient, and we were able to distribute around £8,000 in energy top-up vouchers to people who couldn’t pay their bills. Now they’re not being lenient and it’s looking like customers will be paying £150 a year more on average.

“We can still help people get the warm home discount, we can still provide energy efficiency kits, we can still give fuel vouchers, but ultimately this won’t be enough as the gap between income and meeting basic household costs grows.”

Most of those who seek help are referred by other support bodies, mainly the food banks. During lockdown periods most consultations took place over the phone but as Covid restrictions have eased more people are calling in to speak personally to Kate and her three energy advisor colleagues in the Common Room at 27 Cambridge Road opposite ESK in the town centre.

Referrals doubled

“Come October more people get in touch with us anyway, but this October we’re getting twice the number of referrals, and we’re expecting a really busy winter,” Kate said.

The advice focuses mainly on energy efficiency. Simple measures such as draught-proofing which residents can do for themselves can save significant amounts – up to 15% of the fuel bill.

Energise Sussex Coast can also help people apply to Hastings Borough Council for a LAD (Local Authority Delivery) grant provided by central government for making homes more energy efficient.

However some financial help for low-income and vulnerable customers is also available from big suppliers through the Energy Company Obligation – ECO – a government scheme administered by the official watchdog Ofgem, the Office of Gas and Electricity and funded by suppliers. There are eligibility restrictions, but changes to the rules are due to be made in April which it is hoped will improve eligibility, Kate said.

Other sources of help

Some financial help is also available from the energy trusts run by energy companies to get debt or at least some of it written off, and here Kate and her fellow energy advisers can help with writing applications. Again, she said, there are restrictions on those who are eligible – vulnerable people are among those included.

Housing associations such as Optivo and Orbit also have funds for helping those in fuel poverty – their residents can contact them directly to discuss their needs.

Those in private rented accommodation are not dependent on any spending by the landlord to apply measures such as insulation, just their consent.

All are welcome to contact Kate and her colleagues for a telephone or in-person appointment or to drop into the Common Room (27 Cambridge Road, Hastings TN34 1HG) any Thursday afternoon. To contact them call or text the helpline 01424 390 062, or email <hello@energise sussexcoast.co.uk>. Alternatively, appointments can be made for other days.

The latest government survey, based on 2019 data, found 4,780 households in Hastings in fuel poverty, equivalent to 10.8% of the town’s total. In Eastbourne, where Energise Sussex Coast also provides advice services, it was 4,118, or 8.5% of all households. Under present circumstances these numbers look likely to rise.

 

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Posted 11:19 Friday, Nov 19, 2021 In: Energy

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