Weekly food bills are skyrocketing, inflation is reaching a generational high, and with rapidly rising energy and petrol prices taking hold, households in Swansea are starting to feel the squeeze.
It has already been a tough winter for the 5600 families in Gower who were hit by the Tories £1000 cut to universal credit. Now they are too preoccupied by scandal and infighting to step in as the cost-of-living crisis engulfs more households.
Ballooning household energy bills have quickly become the most pressing aspect of the cost of living crisis.
Shockingly, In December Citizens Advice recorded a 100% increase in cases where people ran out of money to top up their prepayment meter compared to the same time last year. Now with the energy price cap set to increase in April, bills could soar by £700.
Analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that this means households on low incomes will be spending on average 18% of their income after housing costs on energy bills. This would have a devastating impact, pulling around two million people into fuel poverty overnight.
This is clearly unsustainable, and something must be done to relieve the pressure on struggling households.
In January Labour proposed a cut to VAT on energy bills which could’ve saved families hundreds of pounds a year, but the Tories voted it down despite Boris Johnson promising to do so three times during and after the Brexit referendum campaign.
We could be providing targeted support to low-income households that puts money in the pockets of those most in need or spread the cost of supplier failures over 2-3 years.
Yet amidst this crisis the Tories are nowhere to be seen.
Working families deserve security, prosperity, and respect, but they aren’t getting it from the Tories.
If the UK Conservative Government is not interested in taking care of the people’s priorities, they should call an election and make way for a government who will.
On Monday 17th January 2022 Parliament discussed the Tories Elections Bill. Unfortunately I was not called to speak during the debate. Here is the contribution I wished to make on behalf of Gower constituents:
The same Government that created fast lanes for their mates, is asking this house to put up roadblocks in the way of the ordinary people of this country.
The Conservative Governments’ Elections Bill is a brazen attack on our democracy. The bill will undermine the ability of civil society organisations, charities and trade unions to engage and campaign in our democracy. This Bill brings in new measures on Political Parties campaigning jointly with non-party campaigners, fundamentally limiting their power to campaign for a political party, or to work with political parties for a joint goal. Of course, this will have a disproportionate impact on the Labour party because Labour has a long history of supporting workers and developing relationships with the organisations that protect worker’s rights. To quote the National Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation, ‘There is no other political party that has the close constitutional ties with separate, independent organisations in the way that the Labour Party is linked to the trade union movement… The disproportionate, partisan impact of these changes goes against our democratic principles. It is not a level playing field when only one side suffers a disadvantage’
These rules could stop Trade Unions and other organisations campaigning in their own right on political issues that are important to their members, that just happen to take precedent in the year of an election. If unions’ £390,000 expenditure allowance is ‘used up’ by Labour Party expenditure that unions have been (unfairly) deemed to be liable for, then there simply won’t be funds available for other campaigns. Take this with the Government’s attempt to crack down on protesting in the Police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, and it’s hard not to conclude that this Government is trying to undermine our freedom of speech.
Not only is it an affront to the working people, it is also completely unnecessary – there are already regulations on joint campaigning and trade union funding is highly regulated. Indeed, the Electoral Commission produces guidance on joint campaigning. Of course, the Government have covered this as this Bill also undermines the independence of the Electoral Commission by giving a Secretary of State the right to potentially direct the Commission to change that guidance. Our democracy cannot be a level playing field if this happens.
From breaking lockdown rules, to protecting members caught up in lobbying scandals, the Tories have shown their contempt for everyday people. Now that the Government has seen the tide of public opinion turn against it, it is now doing everything it can to cling onto power. The Conservative Party Manifesto pledged to ‘protect the integrity of the UK’s democracy’. This Bill is not protection. It is an obliteration of our democratic system.
What support exists?
Warm Home Discount (WHD)
What is it?
Larger energy suppliers offer Warm Home Discount; a one-off payment of £140 towards your energy bills. The money comes directly off your bill, rather than being paid into your bank account.
Who is eligible?
You may be eligible if you’re:
You qualify for the discount if on 4 July 2021 all of the following apply:
You should've received a letter between October and December 2021 telling you how to get the discount if you qualify. Your letter will say if you need to call a helpline by 28 February 2022 to confirm your details. Your electricity supplier will apply the discount to your bill by 31 March 2022.
You may be able to apply directly to your electricity supplier for help if you do not get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit but:
How to apply for WHD if you are in the Broader group
Your electricity supplier decides who can get the discount. The number of discounts suppliers can give is limited. Check with your supplier as early as possible to see if you’re eligible and how to apply. Check with them even if you were eligible for a discount last year. Your electricity supplier will apply the discount to your bill by 31 March 2022. Find out more about the Warm Home Discount Scheme on GOV.UK.
Priority Services Register (PSR)
What is it?
All suppliers are required to maintain a Priority Services Register (PSR). This is a register of domestic customers who, for non-financial reasons, may be in a vulnerable situation. IF you are on the PSR you are entitled to free non-financial services to address needs relating to communication, safety and/or access.
How can it help?
Suppliers will work out how to support their customers when they apply to the PSR. But here are some things suppliers can help with:
Who is eligible?
This list gives some idea of who can join – but it’s not exhaustive. Support can also be given to those experiencing temporary difficulties in their lives – such as bereavement, pregnancy or recovering from an operation. But, generally, it’s possible for you to join the Priority Services Register if you are:
Winter Fuel Payment
The Winter Fuel Payment is an annual one-off payment to help you pay for heating during the winter. You will usually get a Winter Fuel Payment automatically if you were born on or before 5 October 1954. Find how much you can get, and how to claim on GOV.UK.
Cold Weather Payments
Cold Weather Payments are one-off payments to help you pay for extra heating costs when it’s very cold. You’ll get a payment if the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below over 7 consecutive days. You’ll get £25 for each 7 day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.
You’ll only be eligible if you already get:
The Energy Awareness Hub Swansea
Commissioned by Swansea Council and run by the Environment Centre Swansea with the help of specialist partners, the Energy Awareness Hub aims to help households with free, accessible and independent support.
The hub is open on Thursdays from noon-6pm, Fridays (10am-4pm) and Saturdays (9am-3pm) at 13 Nelson St, Swansea.
Environment Centre Swansea - www.environmentcentre.org.uk
NEST offer a range of free, impartial advice and, if you are eligible, a package of free home energy efficiency improvements such as a new boiler, central heating or insulation. If you’re worried about your energy bills, call us and speak to one of their friendly advisors. They can offer free and impartial advice on:
Find out if you're eligible for free energy efficiency improvements here
Energy Bills rebate
The price of energy has increased significantly since summer 2021; both in the UK and globally. This House of Commons Library briefing summarises the Government support packages following news of a 54% rise in the cap on gas and electricity, and the reaction to them. It also answers frequently asked questions about support available to help customers with energy bills.
Simple Energy Advice is a Government funded service that provides impartial and independent advice to help you reduce your energy bills, make your home warmer, plan home improvements, and make your home greener.
Support for SSE customers can be found
Support for EDF customers can be found here
Support for British Gas customers can be found here
What happens if my supplier fails?
Even if your supplier stops operating, Ofgem – the energy regulator – will automatically switch you onto a new supplier so there will be no disruption to your supply of energy. You should take a meter reading but not do anything else until your new supplier has been in touch with you. Customers of failed suppliers who are switched to a new supplier are protected by the price cap.
Suppliers cannot charge customers of failed suppliers more than the level of the price cap. Once the new supplier contacts you, ask them to put you on their cheapest tariff or shop around and switch if you want to. You will not be charged exit fees.
If you have a Prepayment Meter (PPM) and/or you no longer have electricity/gas
You will still be able to top up your meter as you would normally while Ofgem appoint a new supplier for you. You won’t lose supply. If you are having problems topping up or your card or token won’t work, you can contact Citizens Advice,.
If you are in credit, will you get this money back?
Money you have paid into your account will be refunded to you if you are in credit. Costs for the energy you have used but have not had a bill for will be deducted from your account balance. If you are a prepayment meter customer, credit on your meter will continue to be used as you use energy. You should continue to top up as normal if you need to.
If I’m paying back debt, will I need to continue doing this?
This depends on what your new supplier agrees with your old supplier. The new supplier will explain how things will work after Ofgem have appointed them.
Should I cancel my direct debit?
Your new supplier will contact you to explain how they will take on your account. This will include any direct debits. They will also tell you what will happen to credit balances with the old supplier. You can cancel your direct debit before the new supplier contacts you if you want to. You will be able to set up a new direct debit with the new supplier.
What will happen to your Warm Home Discount?
If you are in the 'core group' will automatically receive the Warm Home Discount even if your supplier goes bust and you are moved to another one. This is because suppliers are provided with a list of customers they must apply the discount to. If you are in the 'broader group' you will be able to reapply for the discount. Once appointed, you should contact your new supplier for details of how to reapply.
What will happen to my Smart Export Guarantee Tariff?
If you had a Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) tariff with the failed supplier, once Ofgem have appointed a new supplier you will need to agree a new SEG tariff for your exported electricity to continue to receive SEG payments. You may need to find another SEG supplier if the new supplier is not a SEG licensee. New SEG licensees are only obliged to make payments for exported electricity when a new SEG contract starts.
Free gas safety checks
Suppliers will provide you with a free gas safety check on gas appliances and the gas meter itself every 12 months if you ask your supplier and meet the requirements outlined below.
Who is eligible?
You must fit all the following criteria for a free gas safety check:
• Be a homeowner
• Be in receipt of a means-tested benefit.
• Have asked for a gas safety check.
• Have not received a gas safety check in the last 12 months.
You must also meet one of the following:
• Be of a pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick and live alone.
• Be of a pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick and live with others who are of pensionable age, disabled, or chronically ill or under the age of 18.
• Have at least one child under the age of five years old.
If you are not eligible for a free gas safety check, you should arrange your own gas safety check and use an engineer that is on the Gas Safe Register. If you live in rented accommodation it is your landlord’s responsibility to arrange an annual gas safety check and to provide you with a copy of the completed Gas Safety Check certificate.