Big Energy Saving Winter 2020/21 – Covid-19’s impact on the seasonal rise in energy issues.
by Molly Hall (Research and Campaigns Volunteer)
Every year, as the days grow shorter and the nights colder, Citizens Advice Gateshead witnesses an increase in the fuel problems that people face. It’s unsurprising: we need to use more energy to keep our homes warm at this time of year.
Beyond the typical annual winter rise, this year we have seen the number of energy-related issues increase dramatically. The number of energy issues presented to Citizens Advice Gateshead in October and November had more than doubled compared to the same months in 2019. That trend continued into December 2020. Last month alone had almost as many issues as Oct-19, Nov-19, Dec-19 and Jan-20 combined.
The rise in energy concerns ties back to the widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, since most of us are spending more time at home, we are having to heat our homes for longer. This could be adding expense, or making issues in our heating systems more prevalent.
Second, reduced incomes and rising unemployment mean that more people are struggling to pay their energy bills. Recent research by Ofgem, the government energy regulator, found that in May, 30% of Prepayment Meter customers were worried they might not be able to top up because of a fall in income. In the same month, just over one in five (22%) drew on emergency credit and a further 6% asked their supplier for more credit.
Ofgem reduced the price cap on energy bills back in autumn, so bills fell by an average of £84 in October 2020. The regulator also introduced new rules to protect households struggling financially: from mid-December, energy suppliers are required to offer struggling customers “realistic” debt repayment plans or emergency credit if they are on prepay energy meters.
These broader regulatory policies are extremely helpful, but customers are still encouraged to shop around themselves. Research from Moneysupermarket found that 67 energy tariffs were cheaper than the new Ofgem price cap: customers could still save up to £196.
This Big Energy Saving Winter we are encouraging you to Check, Switch and Save. It’s important to be aware of the options available to you: by switching supplier or tariff, you could save hundreds of pounds.
Our specialist Consumer Service at Citizens Advice Gateshead can help with any energy-related issues that you may have. We can check if you are eligible for discounts, grants, and support. Indeed, 15% of all energy-related issues at Citizens Advice Gateshead in November 2020 were about the Warm Home Discount Scheme which makes some people eligible for £140 off their winter electricity bill.
You can also contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline for advice on energy issues by calling 0808 223 1133.