Charities' fears for Wigan families as gas prices soar

Wigan families face tough times if fuel prices stay at record highs or get even worse this winter, leading charities have warned.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 1:24 pm

Today, Wigan Post and its sister titles across the country launch the Keep Us Warm This Winter campaign, which aims to keep readers informed about the current fuel crisis and put pressure on the Government to ensure no vulnerable families find themselves without heating this winter.

Wholesale gas prices have surged by 250 per cent since January - with a 70 per cent rise since August alone - and there are fears this could lead to higher bills for consumers.

It comes at a time when many families are already feeling the pinch, with the Government’s furlough scheme coming to an end and the £20 uplift to universal credit being scrapped.

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Wigan Today and its sister titles have launched the Keep Us Warm This Winter campaign

There are serious concerns about the impact that the gas crisis could have on people living in Wigan.

Clare Whittle, deputy chief officer for Citizens Advice Wigan Borough, described the rising gas prices and end of the universal credit uplift as a “double whammy”.

The charity has been calling on the Government to retain the uplift, which she said was a “lifeline” to one in six working age people in the area.

She said: “It’s an absolute double whammy for many Wigan residents and that removal of the uplift is really compounding this. As an organisation, we are already making preparations for additional calls, because these will impact people.

Elderly people are among those who could be worst affected

“We have energy debt but also the impact of future debt. We are already seeing people come to us for help with these wider issues, help with accessing food parcels etc.”

She said Wigan residents had already contacted Citizens Advice for help after receiving letters warning them energy prices will rise.

And she is concerned about the difficulties they will face in coming weeks, as those receiving universal credit payments see them cut.

Mrs Whittle said: “People are going to be thinking they need to warm the house, but they are already £87 a month worse off.”

She urged people concerned about their finances to contact the charity for advice.

Energy advisers can help those affected by the fuel crisis, whether they are looking to change provider or their supplier has gone bust.

She urged people not to cancel their direct debit payments if their supplier had folded, but to take a note and photographs of meter readings and wait for Ofgem to appoint a new supplier. They should also make a note of their account balance when they hear of the transfer and retain old bills.

Customers who owe money to their energy supplier may see that debt passed to an administrator.

The rising prices will also be a concern for older people in the borough, as they coincide with the end of the free television licence for over 75s and the winter fuel payment has not increased since 2011.

Bryonie Shaw, chief executive for Age UK Wigan Borough, said that while people were not yet contacting the charity about the issue, she is worried about the impact it will have.

She said: “Obviously the concern is the anxiety about the news, not just in terms of the price hikes but also the potential energy shortages. A lot of older people aren’t au fait with going online in terms of searching for price comparison sites and are very reliant on what they get in the post.

“What we are very concerned about is we could see very anxious people. In Wigan we do have challenges around income levels. We are seeing huge rises in inflation as well and the general cost of living going up.”

Ms Shaw said many people in Wigan live in poorly insulated homes, which will make the situation even more challenging for those worried about fuel bills.

“We are concerned about the impact that’s going to have on the physical and mental well-being of people in the borough,” she said.

She urged people to contact Age UK or Citizens Advice for help if they are concerned.

The rise in gas prices has been blamed on a number of factors, including a cold winter which left stocks depleted, high demand for liquefied natural gas from Asia and a reduction in supplies from Russia.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said consumers would be protected from sudden price hikes through the Government’s energy price cap.

However that puts pressure on the suppliers, particularly smaller companies, who are unable to pass on the increases in wholesale gas prices to their customers.

Several firms have already folded in recent days and there are fears that more could follow.

A high global demand for gas has also caused problems in the food supply chain, with meat producers warning that a fall in carbon dioxide supply could threaten production of meat products.

Business minister Paul Scully told ITV’s Good Morning Britain yesterday: “We know this is going to be a tough winter.

“There are companies that leave the market each and every year, so Ofgem have a tried and tested formula of moving people into a supplier of last resort, because what we want to do is step in and first of all protect that continuity of supply.”

For any help or advice, contact: Citizens Advice Wigan Borough on 0808 2787 801 or www.cawb.org.uk; or Age UK Wigan Borough on 01942 615880 or www.ageuk.org.uk/wiganborough

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