A single mum who ended up in debt to keep herself and her children from freezing has said she is worried about this winter as the Government’s energy bill support scheme (EBSS) comes to an end.
The Government is encouraging people with unclaimed energy bill support vouchers to redeem them before the 30 June deadline.
Of the vouchers issued for prepayment meter customers, many of whom are extremely vulnerable, £130m of Government support remains unclaimed.
Kirsty Crane, 33, said the credit was a “lifeline” but fears she will be much worse off come winter without renewed support that she can also use to cover the cost of heating her home.
Ms Crane, from Thatcham in Berkshire, was only able to benefit from the energy bill support via credit applied by EDF to cover the cost of her electricity, despite desperately needing money to pay for her gas, which is handled by British Gas.
She said: “Because my electric is a smart meter, it went on automatically and that’s the same with the warm home discount as well, it all goes on automatically. Because I didn’t receive [a voucher], I didn’t have a choice of where to put it.”
The energy bills support scheme was operated via electricity providers who issued vouchers or credit to customers using Government funding.
Customers whose electricity supplier provided both their gas and electricity could split the payments across these utilities.
EDF’s website states: “If we supply your gas and electricity when redeeming your voucher at a Post Office branch, you can ask for the EBSS discount to be split between your gas and electricity meters.”
In instances where customers’ gas and electricity were supplied by different firms, the credit was applied to electricity alone.
‘It’s the winter that really concerns me’
Ms Crane, who had to give up work to care full-time for her 12-year-old son, Tyler, said: “I’ve ended up in so much debt just through this winter just to keep my house – I wouldn’t even call it warm – I would call it not freezing.
“It’s the winter that really concerns me more than anything, even this winter approaching. The cost of keeping my house warm was ridiculous. It was costing kind of £50, £60 a week.”
Her energy suppliers encouraged her to switch to a prepayment meter for her gas and a pay-as-you-go smart meter for electricity when she was unable to keep up with direct debit payments of around £400.
But the EBSS only provided relief for Ms Crane’s energy costs. While she is very grateful, she would like the Government to announce further support with more flexibility.
Ms Crane said: “My gas was costing me the most amount of money, that was where it was really impacting me. So to be able to use those vouchers on the gas, where I needed it, I can’t even explain how much of a vital lifeline that [would be].”
She added: “I was struggling to keep my house warm to the point that when I only had myself and my eldest, the whole house was turned off and I only had his room on.
“I didn’t have the hot water on at all and I was literally just relying on an electric shower, and was even boiling the kettle to fill up the bath for my son because it was cheaper for me to do that on my electric than it was to actually have my hot water on.”
A spokesperson for British Gas said: “If any customer is struggling with their energy costs we would encourage them to contact us. There are many ways we can support them such as a grant from the British Gas Energy Trust. We have put together a £50m voluntary support package and we’ve helped 650,000 customers with their energy bills in the last year.”
Ms Crane has made various cutbacks to make ends meet – forgoing social activities and haircuts for herself – and even food.
“I always put myself last with anything,” she said. “I don’t want to have an impact on the children, so it’s myself that takes that hit.
“I won’t worry about myself. I’ll just have a sandwich, for instance, to make sure that I have everything that I could have for [Tyler].”
Tyler is autistic and has avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (Arfid), a condition that severely limits what he eats and how much.
Because of his special needs and the additional costs when she is caring for her two other children, aged six and nine, Ms Crane spends £80-100 a week on food shopping.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that food inflation has slowed but a lower rate of food price rises has made little difference to Ms Crane and others in similar positions.
“I’m not seeing it on the shelves,” she said, adding she had observed a day-to-day price rise of 10p on a specific brand of cake bars Tyler eats.
Although her son has an education, health and care plan (EHC) which enables children to access education outside of school provided, Ms Crane said her local authority has not provided alternative education, meaning she cannot claim free school meals Tyler would otherwise be entitled to.
Without the free school meal support, Ms Crane said she has been forced to use apps such as ClearPay to split the cost of buying Sainsbury’s gift cards to pay for her groceries.
Parents around the country and Contact, the charity for families with disabled children, are campaigning for a nationwide policy for supermarket vouchers to be offered to eligible disabled children unable to access a free meal in school.
i has contacted the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero for comment.