Focus on fuel bill debts

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CONSUMER Focus and Citizens Advice are launching a new drive to help people understand what to do and what their rights are if they fall behind on their energy bills.

The organisations are launching the awareness campaign as they are concerned that the number of people in debt to their energy firm and needing help is likely to rise this winter as people struggle to afford higher energy prices.

The most recent figures available show that in Britain, more than 850,000 electricity customers and 700,000-plus gas customers are in debt to their supplier.

Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice believe that average energy price increases of 14 per cent this autumn could push even more vulnerable households over the edge into debt.

Last year, 100,000 people came to Citizens Advice for help with their fuel bills and this year, in October alone, more than 12,500 people sought online advice on cutting their fuel bills from its website.

Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “Hikes in prices are making a tough time much harder for many.

“We urge people to check that they aren’t missing out on any benefits or tax credits that could ease the pressure on their finances and, if they are in debt, to get help immediately.”

The organisations are reassuring customers that suppliers have to, and will want to, help them if they get into trouble with their bills and urging people to contact their supplier before debts start to grow.

Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus, said: “We want people to know that help is out there.

“Your supplier has to help you if you have problems affording your bills and there are discounts and grants available to help you lower your costs.”

The ‘Plug the Debt’ campaign is also supported by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Ofgem, Energy UK, Which? and Age UK.

For more information about the campaign, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or visit www.consumerfocus.org.uk/plugthedebt