‘People are beyond breaking point’: Huge increase in those seeking energy debt support as cost of living crisis bites
A charity has warned Greater Manchester residents are ‘beyond breaking point’ as the cost of living crisis worsens.
The number of people seeking support to manage their energy bill debts with Citizens Advice SORT (Stockport, Oldham, Rochdale and Trafford ) has massively increased over the last 12 months, going up by 48pc.
The charity is now warning that without further government action, Greater Manchester families face falling into ‘severe hardship’ from shouldering huge energy price hikes expected later this year.
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Alex Smith* lives in rented accommodation and has a prepayment meter for their electricity supply. When Alex contacted Citizens Advice Trafford, their electricity was about to run out and they had no money to top it up.
They said without electricity they were unable to charge their mobile phone and they only had a couple of days worth of food left in the house with no money coming in for another week.
Citizens Advice were able to help Alex access an electricity top-up voucher and researched grants to help them pay off some of their energy debt.
And they’re not alone. Lena Alin* contacted Citizens Advice Trafford for support as she couldn’t pay her increased energy bills. Unable to heat her home, and unable to access support from her energy provider, she didn’t know where to turn, or how to avoid getting into spiralling debt.
The charity helped Lena to access a food bank, and referred her to their energy advice team who will check her tariff/usage and help reduce her payments where possible.
Citizens Advice SORT has found that 19pc of people in the North West are already unable to afford their energy bills, even if they cut back or fall behind on other essentials and they predict that this will jump to to 32pc of people after the energy price cap is lifted on April 1.
To combat this, the charity wants to see an increase in benefit payments from April this year, in line with the current rate of inflation.
They also want to see more support offered to families to prevent them from having to choose between heating and eating in October when the price cap is predicted to rise again.
Nathan Woodhead, advisor at Citizens Advice SORT, said: “The people we’re helping at the Citizens Advice SORT Group are beyond breaking point. We are only just at the start of this inflationary crisis, yet the heartbreaking reality is that almost everyone is affected, and quite frankly many are already unable to even afford gas and electricity at current prices.
“The coming months will only be tougher. This is why we’re seeing more and more people needing crisis support, such as food bank referrals and more so, help with energy bills and debts.”
Jonathan Yates, chief executive of Citizens Advice SORT group, said: “We’re seeing first hand that the budgets of people across the North West are being pushed to the brink.
“Current measures announced by the government don’t go far enough. Only six per cent of people across the region think the energy rebate will make a significant difference to their ability to pay their energy bill from October. If the government doesn’t at least increase benefits to match the current rate of inflation, many more households will be pushed to crisis point.”
A Government spokesperson said:“We recognise the pressures people are facing with the cost of living, which is why we’re providing support worth £21 billion this financial year and next to help.
“This includes putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families via changes to Universal Credit, freezing fuel duties to keep costs down and helping households with their energy bills through our £9.1 billion energy bills rebate.
“We’re also boosting the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our £500 million household support fund is helping the most vulnerable with essential costs.”
*Names have been changed to protect vulnerable people.
READ MORE about Trafford issueson our MyTrafford page.
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