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Energy Bill Support Delayed for Neediest, Says Lancaster Study

Written evidence from Lancaster researchers is included in a new report published by the House of Commons today which is critical of the Government’s energy bills support scheme.

In its report, the Public Accounts Committee says it took too long to get support to some of those most in need. While support schemes were introduced quickly, the Government did not have the bandwidth to make sure support reached all groups in a timely fashion.

Dr Leighanne Higgins and Dr Killian O’Leary, both from Lancaster University Management School, submitted evidence to the energy bills support Inquiry, based on the findings of their research with carers to better understand their experiences of care and support during Covid-19.

Their evidence reveals that many carers faced a ‘worrying daily dilemma’ where they have to make choices between running important medical equipment for those they care for – such as dialysis and oxygen support machines; heating their homes, or putting food on the table.

The Public Accounts Committee outlines that in February 2023, the Department estimated that support for households and businesses will cost £69 billion, of which £16 billion was paid between October and December 2022. 900,000 households only became eligible for the for domestic consumers’ Energy Bills Support Scheme Alternative Funding on 27 February 2023, nearly five months after consumers began receiving discounts on the main scheme. 830,000 households in Northern Ireland only began receiving support with their energy bills in January 2023, three months later than in Great Britain.

When the Committee heard evidence in February, household energy bills were expected to increase by another £775 in 2023/24. The Public Accounts Committee expects an update on plans to ensure energy affordability for next winter, including how it will fix the problems for those most in need, and has serious concerns on the Government’s lack of urgency in addressing the energy market failures that are leading to high energy bills for consumers. It says the Treasury and DESNZ have also not fully grasped the pressures the non-domestic sector will face after the Energy Bill Relief Scheme ended in March 2023, or the potential risk of insolvencies.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The surge in energy prices has caused serious difficulties and hardship for households across the UK. It is of course welcome to see Government moving quickly to put in place support for both households and businesses to keep the lights on. But many of those who most needed help were kept waiting longest for it. For some households, every day left without support presented impossible choices.

“We need to see better understanding from Government on vulnerable customers’ circumstances so that help can be prioritised for those who need it most, and to deliver value for money in these extremely expensive schemes. Almost halfway through the year we have not yet seen plans to ensure energy affordability for the coming winter. As a matter of urgency Government must show it’s clear not just on how households and businesses will be protected in any future price rises, but how to ensure resilience in the sector as a whole.”

Lancaster University Management School’s Dr Leighanne Higgins said: “The energy crisis has driven carers to feel even more disempowered and vulnerable.

“Supporting carers with energy bills should be a priority for the UK government, social services, and policy makers. What happens if loved ones stop enacting informal care? Realistically, the UK economy and social care system would buckle under the pressure and cost of residential health care for those in need.

“Therefore, it is in the best interest of the country that greater support is offered to informal carers. We strongly believe that supporting them through the current energy crisis would be a very good starting point.”

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