Energy Advice Overtakes Benefits
CAB Advice: Energy overtakes benefits for the first time.
This article was first published in the Herald on 18 February 2023.
For the last three years or so we’ve been monitoring the trends of cases that people bring to the Citizens Advice network in Scotland. In the latest data for December last year, we noticed a very significant shift.
Historically social security has been the top issue for the CAB network, at least since welfare reform in the 2010s. However the figures for December show that for the first time ever, demand for energy advice was higher than advice for Universal Credit.
Sadly, this doesn’t mean that problems with Universal Credit have gone away. Rather, the demand for advice around energy bills has soared.
Demand for Utilities and Communications advice - the majority of which is related to energy - increased 70% from the previous month, nearly doubling in terms of the amount of advice provided. This is a further increase of 98% from the same time last year.
Beyond these numbers are the stories of real people and the impact the crisis is having on them.
In one case, a single parent of two children, including a disabled child, sought advice from a CAB in the west of Scotland after being unable to afford additional energy costs. Her child needed additional medical equipment for her condition. However their rising bills meant the family stopped using this equipment and the child had to take time off of school as a result.
In another case, an older couple with health issues sought advice from a west of Scotland CAB regarding their debt to an energy supplier. The couple had made a repayment offer of usage plus £20 per month, but this was refused with the supplier applying for a warrant to install a pre-payment meter. The CAB liaised with the supplier and initiated an application to the Home Heating Support Fund.
Also in the west of Scotland, a CAB gave advice to a single parent of two children under 5, who had self-disconnected from gas and felt unable to re-connect in the knowledge that standing charges arrears accumulated during disconnection would have to be repaid via ongoing top-ups. The mother was not heating her property adequately due to the cost of electric heaters.
For energy advice to overtake and single benefit issue is a significant moment, and shows the scale of the energy crisis. December was bitterly cold at points. There’s a real risk people are rationing their energy and sitting in cold, dark homes.
Meanwhile, foodbank advice is an all-time high. That’s the sickening reality of this crisis, people can’t afford their essential bills and start to cut back elsewhere.
We are seeing projections that inflation is set to fall later this year, but that’s no comfort to people making impossible choices between heating and eating now, and we need to seriously consider the legacy this cost of living crisis is going to leave on people – one of debt, poverty and destitution.
People can seek advice from their local CAB or our online resources if they are worried about money and bills. We’ll do all we can to help you.
But policymakers should be looking at our figures closely. Because while the government and energy companies will consistently list the things they’ve done to mitigate the crisis, data like ours shows the unpalatable truth: it’s not enough.