1.62million people in the UK, using a pre-payment meter, have gone without gas or electricity to save money on things such as food. This has been referred to as the ‘heat or eat’ crisis.
npower have teamed up with charities such as The Trussell Trust, Durham Christian Partnership and National Energy Action to support those most in need, starting with 13,000 people in the first year of the scheme.
The aim is to give these homes funds, roughly £49 in credit, to pay for their gas and electricity. This amount should fund these families to keep the heating and lights on for up to 2 weeks.
Scott Byrom, energy expert at UKPower.co.uk, said “Any help to the most vulnerable in society is great to see and supports npower’s aspirations to meet its new mantra of “standing up for customers”.
Although this initiative is being recognised and well received, concerns have been raised that this is only the tip of the iceberg in resolving the energy crisis we find ourselves in. Mark Todd, director of energyhelpline.com, commented: "While the scheme is a positive initiative to alleviate the heat or eat dilemma facing Britain's poorest, it doesn't address the real problem: consumer energy prices are too high. In the last five years, energy bills have risen by over 50%. The UK energy market is crippling millions in this country and the people that suffer the most are our poorest.
"The tiny price drops the Big Six made earlier this year were a token gesture. They averaged 2.5% while wholesale prices plummeted by over 20%, so the energy giants are currently much more profitable now than they were this time last year. It's unfair that this happens at the expense of ordinary families in Britain, who face an upward struggle to afford their bills.
"We urge energy companies to address the real issue of consumer prices. Nobody should be priced out of heating their home and forced to shiver in silence. People can also take a simple step to switch to a cheaper tariff that could save them up to £405 a year. If you don't switch, it's only your energy supplier who is going to get rich."
The Fuel banks will be placed in existing food banks and has been launched to specifically address the issue of homes disconnecting from their pre-paid meters in order to save money. Matthew Cole, npower’s Head of Policy & Obligations, said: “Through our longstanding Health through Warmth programme and our partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, npower has worked hard to help our most vulnerable customers. However, we are keen to do more and this new trial with food banks could be an important breakthrough. It will provide immediate and hassle-free support to households where often the choice is between food or warmth.”
Scott Byrom stated: “It would be good to hear how these plans develop and what further plans npower, and the rest of the energy industry, have to help those needing help to pay their energy bills.
Whilst these gestures are encouraging, the best way any customer can help reduce their energy costs is to ensure they are on the cheapest possible deal by running a whole of market comparison. From that, you can save +£200 a year and build on this further by reducing your energy usage.”
Click here to run an energy price comparison, and see if you could be paying less for your gas and electricity.