CAB research shows one third are worried about paying energy bills

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By a Newsnet reporter

Over one third of Scots are worried that they will not be able to afford their next fuel bill, according to research published by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAB). 

This week sees the start of CAB Big Energy Week (16-21 January 2012) which will see CAB advisers across the country help people spend less on heating and powering their home.  The SNP’s Westminster Energy spokesman Mike Weir MP says that the CAB research confirms that Westminster’s energy policy is not working and is failing consumers.

By a Newsnet reporter

According to research published by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAB), over one third of Scots are worried that they will not be able to afford their next fuel bill. 

This week sees the start of CAB Big Energy Week (16-21 January 2012) which will see CAB advisers across the country help people spend less on heating and powering their home.  The SNP’s Westminster Energy spokesman Mike Weir MP says that the CAB research confirms that Westminster’s energy policy is not working and is failing consumers.

According to a survey carried out by CAB and published as Big Energy Week is launched, 35% of Scots fear that they can’t afford their next fuel bill and one in two say that rising energy bills will put a strain on their household finances.  Although some help is available in the form of insulation grants, one in three people do not realise that this assistance exists.  

The survey also found widespread lack of awareness about consumer rights.  Fewer than half of people (49%) are aware their energy firm has to take their circumstances and ability to pay into consideration when arranging repayments of outstanding bills and almost one in five (19%) believe their supplier could name any amount and they would have to pay it.

Citizens Advice Scotland Head of Policy, Susan McPhee said: “Every day citizens advice bureaux across Scotland help people who are struggling to pay their fuel bills.  In 2010/11 we helped over 10,500 clients with energy issues.  Current economic circumstances mean many people are finding it hard to meet rising fuel costs.  Through Big Energy Week we want to let people know exactly how they can save money by checking their current tariff, switching suppliers and insulating their home.”

Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore reiterated the UK government’s advice for consumers to shop around energy suppliers to get the best deal saying: “We know that a lot of households are struggling to cope with rising energy costs.  Many people could cut their gas and electricity bills by moving to a better deal with their existing supplier, switching to another supplier altogether, or by taking up home insulation offers.”

However Mike Weir MP warned that the UK government’s advice was inadequate and the facts showed that the strategy was not working.  Mr Weir pointed to a parliamentary question which reveals that the number of gas and electricity customers moving suppliers has actually fallen over recent years.

Mr Weir said that if the UK government was serious about reducing domestic energy bills they needed to look at how prices rise quickly when the wholesale price goes up, but fall slowly, if at all, when the wholesale price falls.

Mr Weir said:

“This worrying research from the Citizens Advice Bureau must focus minds in Whitehall. Encouraging customers to switch between energy suppliers has been the UK Government’s answer to tackling the problems of sky high bills, but it is clear from the facts that this strategy is not working.

“The sad fact is that most people who are already on a direct debit payment are unlikely to make a significant saving by switching and, indeed, research has shown that many of those who switch have actually ended up on a worse deal.

“Last summer we saw the big six energy suppliers go through a follow my lead of rising energy prices. How is the average consumer supposed to know what is a good deal without knowing when the next company is going to hike prices?

“With the typical dual fuel bill having increased by 48% since 2007, even the recent reductions by some energy suppliers will not make any real difference for households who now find energy bills are one of the biggest costs they face.

“If the UK government were serious about the reduction in energy bills they need to look at how prices rise quickly when the wholesale price goes up, but fall slowly, if at all, when the wholesale price falls.”

All Scottish CABs are promoting Big Energy Week to clients and 12 bureaux are also holding outreach events across Scotland throughout the week in order to reach the public face to face.

Visit www.bigenergyweek.org.uk to find out more about how you can save money and where and when bureaux events are taking place.