As winter looms, the call for assistance for vulnerable households with their energy bills is imperative.
As winter approaches, a cross-party committee of MPs has issued an urgent plea to the UK government, energy regulator Ofgem, and energy suppliers. The call for action aims to provide immediate assistance to vulnerable households facing the harsh realities of winter energy costs.
The call comes in the wake of a report by the Energy Security and Net Zero (ESNZ) Committee, which conducted a rapid inquiry into the preparedness of the government and energy companies for the upcoming winter. Last year saw a shocking 50% increase in excess winter deaths, amounting to over 4,700. Many households had to resort to extreme measures just to keep warm, a situation that the committee finds deeply concerning.
While acknowledging the support provided last year, the committee expressed worries that no new specific financial aid has been announced for this winter. The MPs also highlighted that the high energy costs would be exacerbated by broader cost-of-living pressures and accumulating energy debts.
The committee is calling for a targeted support package from the government to aid vulnerable groups. They emphasise the need for energy companies to adopt a more compassionate and proactive approach to customer service. One alarming detail from the report is the £440 million earmarked for energy bill support last year, which remains unspent and has been returned to the Treasury. The MPs are urging the government to ensure that all households previously excluded from the Energy Bills Support Scheme receive immediate payments.
To further assist vulnerable households, the committee suggests utilising existing mechanisms like extending the Warm Home Discount. They also propose the implementation of a social tariff in collaboration with energy suppliers. The report advocates for a revised Cold Weather Payment system to be in place before anticipated cold weather events and calls for local authorities to share best practices on delivering the Household Support Fund.
A spokesperson for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero responded by stating that the Energy Price Guarantee will remain in place until April next year. This is part of nearly £40 billion of support to cover around half of a typical household bill. Additional targeted support is available through the Warm Home Discount, and the recently launched £1 billion Great British Insulation Scheme aims to help more than 300,000 families save on bills and heat their homes.
Angus Brendan MacNeil, Chair of the ESNZ Committee, summed up the urgency of the situation: "The nights are now drawing in, and many of our most vulnerable people will be haunted by harrowing memories of the relentless sacrifices they were forced into last year. With the challenge this winter threatening to be even worse, an announcement of support from the government is long overdue."
As winter looms, the call for immediate action to support vulnerable households has never been more critical. It remains to be seen whether the government and energy companies will heed these urgent calls and take the necessary steps to prevent another winter of hardship.