‘My heart sank’: how lifting energy price cap will hit the most vulnerable

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Anthony Lyman, from Northampton, said his heart sank when he learned that his annual energy bill would climb by more than £150 a year after the regulator’s decision to lift the energy price cap.

The 35-year-old is autistic, lives in a one-bed flat and shares custody of his two children. He was forced out of work by long-term sickness shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

“This is the wrong news at the wrong time,” he said. “We’re already living on the breadline, and need help to keep food in our cupboards, so to suddenly hear that energy prices will go up by this much has taken things to a very high anxiety level. My heart sank, to be honest.”

The winter energy crisis has reignited calls for more to be done to help protect the most vulnerable in society from unaffordable energy costs, including a social energy tariff set below the level of the regulator’s energy price cap.

Lyman pays roughly £40 a month on electricity, and between £30 and £50 a month on gas – over the £67 a month average for a two-bed flat and almost more than he can afford.

He is one of the 3 million Britons living in fuel poverty, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, a number which is expected to rise by about half a million households as a result of the energy price cap increase. He is also one of 6 million people who rely on the government’s universal credit scheme, which will face a £20 reduction within weeks of the energy price cap rise.

The advice from the government and the regulator for those unable to pay their bills is to switch to a better energy deal, or speak to energy suppliers about the help they can offer.

Lyman is unable to switch to a cheaper fixed rate deal for his gas after opening a dispute against his gas supplier for wrongfully signing him up in a doorstep sale while he was “quite poorly, and at my most vulnerable”.

“This price increase doesn’t seem to have been done with vulnerable people in mind,” he said. “It will bring a lot of stress for a lot of people after a difficult year.”

Leslie Tudor-Snodin, who works with struggling households on behalf of National Energy Action (NEA), a fuel poverty charity, said most households in fuel poverty “won’t know about [the regulator’s energy price cap rise] until it hits them”.

“We will often receive calls from people who can only top up their pre-payment meter £5 at a time when they assume that their meter is broken because the balance has run down quicker than normal,” she said.

She said many households found themselves in difficulties while struggling with bereavement, mental health struggles and terminal illness – often while caring for young children or for elderly people who quickly become poorly in cold, damp homes.

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“In some cases, people are begging,” she said. “They are so weary and downtrodden by everything that has been thrown at them. It’s desperate.”

Although Lyman was able to seek help from Christians Against Poverty, a debt counselling charity, he said the government should consider a social tariff for energy or at least take advice from the fuel poverty groups calling for more to be done to help make energy bills affordable for those living in poverty.

Simon Francis, the coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said: “It is difficult to put into words just how devastating this news will be for people. Switching advice and the price cap may provide some protection from the worst excesses of the energy market, but this will be no comfort to those now facing the stark choice between heating and eating.”

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