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GORDON HENDERSON MP

FOR SITTINGBOURNE & SHEPPEY

Campaign to help energy customers ‘Plug the Debt’ on winter bills

30th April 2012
Campaign to help energy customers ‘Plug the Debt’ on winter bills

Gordon Henderson MP welcomes the joint Consumer Focus/Citizens Advice campaign which aims to help advise people who are falling behind with their energy bills.

With people now receiving their winter energy bills new research from Consumer Focus shows four in 10 people across the country say their winter energy bill is even higher than last year. This is despite one of the mildest winters in a decade which resulted in falls in energy consumption. Almost half of consumers (48%) say they plan to make cut-backs in order to afford their energy bill.

Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice are warning that these unexpectedly higher bills could push more people into debt with their energy supplier – particularly those on low fixed incomes, such as older people and families receiving benefits. The organisations are highlighting their awareness campaign - ‘Plug the Debt’- to help people know what to do and what their rights are when they fall behind on their energy bills.

Mr Henderson said:

‘With many of my constituents receiving high energy bills, despite the mild winter, this is an issue that will be causing hardship for many people in Sittingbourne and Sheppey.

“It is clearly worrying that people are being forced to cut back just to afford their energy bills, and the number of constituents contacting me about this issue is rising. I hope this campaign will help those struggling to make ends meet, who do not know where to turn for help.”

Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus, said:

‘With energy price cuts and less heating used because of the mild weather, most people will have expected their winter energy bill to be lower this year. So higher winter bills may come as a nasty shock that many customers simply can’t afford. We’d urge anyone struggling to pay their bill to contact their energy firm and Citizen’s Advice as soon as possible. The sooner you get in touch the less chance there is for debts to build and become harder to repay.’

Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice Chief Executive, said:

'High energy bills are stretching some household budgets to breaking point. If you are worried you can’t afford to pay your bills and they are mounting up – don’t suffer in silence. Speak to your energy supplier as they have a duty to make sure you are repaying what you can afford. Citizens Advice Bureaux can also help you to find out what help is out there to cut your bills and claim any benefits you could be entitled to.’
 
Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice are making people aware of the following five top tips if they fall behind with their bills:

1. Always contact your energy firm as soon as you realise you might have trouble with paying. Debts will build-up and be harder to pay off the longer you leave them. Your supplier has a responsibility to help you if you have problems paying your bill.

2. Tell your energy supplier what you can afford to pay – they have to take this into account in agreeing repayments of the money you owe.

3. Ask your energy company, your local Citizens Advice Bureau or call the Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 to find out about other free energy help available. For example you could qualify for a discount off your bill or free insulation to help your home stop leaking heat and cut your bills.

4. Even if you are in debt you may still be able to switch to a cheaper deal with your current supplier, especially if you pay by cash, cheque or prepayment meter. If you pay by pre-payment meter and have less than £200 of debt you can also switch to a cheaper deal with another supplier.

5. Financial help is available which could make it easier to afford your bills – check you are receiving all of the benefits and tax credits you are entitled to by getting in touch with your local Citizens Advice Bureau or visiting www.adviceguide.org.uk.

Anyone who wants to find out more about getting help or advice through the ‘Plug the Debt’ campaign should visit www.consumerfocus.org.uk/plugthedebt or contact their local Citizens Advice Bureau.

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