The monthly number of people that Citizens Advice helped with energy-related problems and issues rose to a record high in November, underlining the scale of the struggle with soaring costs of gas and electricity.
The charity said it was continuing to exceed its forecasts for the numbers of cash-strapped households turning to it for help because they cannot afford to top up their energy prepayment meter and therefore cannot perform basic tasks such as heating food.
It said that in 2022 so far it had seen more people unable to afford to top up their prepayment meter than in the previous six years combined.
Earlier this month the Guardian reported that several hundred thousand of the UK’s most vulnerable families had been left without government help to pay their energy bills since October.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy prices have soared, causing hardship for millions as the cold weather sets in. A public information campaign to encourage UK households to cut their energy use and save money this winter is due to launch this weekend.
Citizens Advice said that in the year so far up to the end of November it had helped almost 215,000 people with energy issues, ranging from bills rising beyond affordability and households being pursued for energy debts to problems with billing and customer service. That was more than 50% more than at the same point last year, and more than double the figure for 2020.
In November alone the charity helped more than 29,000 people, which it said was a record. The figure compares with just under 18,000 in November 2021, and just over 4,000 in November 2017.
About 4.5 million domestic customers use prepayment meters, and many of them are on low incomes. Users can pay in frequent small amounts but at a more expensive rate than on a monthly bill.
People with prepayment meters are at particular risk in the winter months because unlike direct debit customers, they cannot spread the cost across the whole year.
Citizens Advice said the rise in November in the number of people seeking help “suggests that current government support may not be enough to keep people on supply”.
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All households in the UK are meant to receive £400 this winter under the energy bills support scheme, but it has emerged that a sizeable number of vouchers for homes with prepayment meters have got lost or been delayed, or have gone unclaimed.
Citizens Advice said it was continuing to advise “high numbers” of people each month who were having prepayment meters forcibly installed. About 65% of the people being moved on to one for debt reasons are disabled or have a long-term health condition, and 40% are single people with children, a spokesperson said.
The charity said that last week was “the worst week this year” in terms of the numbers of people it was helping with crisis support, including with food bank referrals.