'Difficult winter' ahead for those in need as gas prices rise
- Credit: PA
The rise in gas prices is expected to make winter a "difficult" period for many people in Norfolk, as they struggle with the prospect of paying their bills and fuelling their homes.
Wholesale gas prices have surged since the start of the year, putting energy suppliers out of business and the UK's energy supply under pressure.
But the increase could have a knock-on effect for households in the region, with people facing having to pay more for gas and electricity.
It comes as we launch our There With You This Winter campaign, which aims to highlight the issues faced by those living in fuel poverty and to offer support.
Rik Martin, chief executive of Community Action Norfolk (CAN), said an estimated 40,000 households across Norfolk are affected by fuel poverty, with around 600 "premature deaths attributable to fuel poverty".
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He said: "We know, realistically, it’s going to be a difficult winter for many Norfolk residents.
"Winter temperatures, Covid, the flu season, higher energy bills and fuel poverty are a potent combination."
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The chief executive said fuel poverty is driven by three factors - household income, energy costs and the energy efficiency of a home, and that CAN and the groups it works with across the county will be concerned for the vulnerable people they work with in light of "present steeply-rising energy costs".
He said: "A household is said to be in fuel poverty if the occupants are on low incomes and facing a disproportionately high cost of keeping adequately warm and being able to cook meals.
"But we want people to know there is help out there, from your local council, Citizens Advice or your energy supplier.
"And for those living on their own, often a good start is talking to a friend or neighbour."
Nationally, 13.4pc of families are said to be fuel poor.
Citizens Advice branches in Norfolk are also warning of an increase in people struggling to pay their energy bills and turning to charities for help.
Norfolk Warm and Wise, an energy project between Diss and Thetford Citizens Advice and Norfolk Citizens Advice, helps people with energy-related problems, from emergency support to billing-related issues.
Coordinator Caroline Mackinson said: “The huge increases in energy bills couldn’t come at a worse time for many households, with the ending of furlough and £20 a week cut to Universal Credit payments."
What's caused the crisis?
The price of wholesale gas has surged by 250pc since the beginning of the year and added 70pc since August, according to figures from Oil and Gas UK. It has put pressure on UK suppliers.
It has put nine domestic energy firms out of business, forcing 1.7 million customers to find new providers at higher rates.
Energy firms have warned that suppliers going bust will lead to households being hit with higher costs.
One of the reasons for the price increase is a rise in global gas demand following the pandemic.
A number of factors, including the end of furlough, ending of the £20 Universal Credit boost and rising food prices also put pressure on the household budget.
Europe is also about to start entering winter, when gas demand will be at its highest — especially from countries such as the UK which overwhelmingly rely on gas to heat homes.
Where you can go for support
Local groups are offering support and advice to those struggling with their bills, including CAN.
CAN is running British Energy Saving Network advice sessions for consumers, frontline workers and charity volunteers who come into contact with vulnerable people, on how to save on their gas, electricity or heating oil bills.
As part of Good Neighbour Week it is also running an energy saving training session.
For advice or guidance join one of CAN's online sessions by ringing 01362 698216 or email office@community actionnorfolk.org.uk
Advice and support can be found on the Citizens Advice website including information on grants and benefits for those struggling with bills at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also offers support on the gov.uk website.
It offers the Warm House Discount which provides eligible households with a one-off £140 discount on their energy bills for winter 2021 to 2022.
There is also Winter Fuel Payments, worth between £100 and £300, which are paid automatically to those with a state pension or other social security benefit, and Cold Weather Payments, a £25 payment for vulnerable households.
For more information visit www.gov.uk/government/news/rising-gas-prices-protections-for-consumers
Thousands across the region could face a struggle to pay their bills, fuel their homes and even feed their families this winter.
That is the stark prediction amid fears a perfect storm of financial pressures will push many into hardship over the forthcoming months.
Therefore, this newspaper is launching a new hard-hitting campaign to recognise the financial challenges some of our readers face, raise awareness and offer support during the cold winter months.
As part of our campaign, 'There With You This Winter', we hope to stand by our communities, just as we did with a series of campaigns during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are plenty of local organisations and support groups offering advice. We will be profiling these throughout the campaign.
Wider financial support is still available for those who need assistance, through the Norfolk Assistance Scheme - please visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/NAS or call 0344 8008020.
Suffolk Advice and Support Service (SASS) is a free phoneline and is available to support vulnerable people in our communities. The telephone number is freephone 0800 068 3131 and will be staffed from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
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