Low income households miss out on £50m to help pay energy bills

Campaigners call on ministers to allow vulnerable people a second chance as aid goes unclaimed

One in five households with prepayment meters have missed out on government energy vouchers to help pay bills.

According to new figures, a total of about 760,000 vouchers went unclaimed in October and November – 380,000 each month – with those not taking them up among the UK’s poorest.

Consumer groups, which have called on ministers to allow households a second chance to claim the vouchers, said as much as £50m of government support for gas and electricity bills had gone unclaimed.

Bill payment firm PayPoint sent out hundreds of thousands of vouchers in November worth £66 a month under a government support scheme.

But only 81% of those vouchers had been redeemed on Sunday when they ran out – 90 days after they were issued.

The redemption rate is broadly comparable to similar schemes like the warm home discount, PayPoint said.

However, campaigners said if similar rates occurred across all issuers of vouchers it would lead to many more households missing out on several million pounds between them.

Last month Citizens Advice said 3.2 million people – the equivalent of one person every 10 seconds – were left with cold and dark homes last year after running out of prepay credit.

The charity said 600,000 people were forced to switch from credit meters – which allow consumers to pay by direct debit – after they had run up debt with their energy supplier in 2022, compared with 380,000 in 2021.

The vouchers are part of Rishi Sunak’s promise in May 2022 to give £400 to every household to help them with their energy bills.

For most households this amount was simply deducted from their direct debits. However, customers with prepayment meters had to redeem vouchers.

Steve O’Neill, corporate affairs and marketing director at PayPoint, said the energy bill support scheme (EBSS) vouchers were administered by the company’s 28,000 retailer partners across the UK.

“Final redemptions of over four in five recipients is generally considered a good result for government voucher schemes.”

He said a survey of 2,000 adults using its services over the first three weeks of January showed 93% found it easy to redeem their EBSS vouchers at a top-up point.

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, said it was “an urgent priority” for ministers and energy suppliers to quickly improve the scheme “to ensure that all customers on prepayment meters – who are more likely to be vulnerable and on lower incomes – are able to access this vital support without further delay”.

She said: “The government should also set out a clear process for the reissuing of any expired or lost vouchers to ensure this works well for customers.”


Phillip Inman

The GuardianTramp

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