Parents hit by huge energy bills and fearing disconnection have been switching to higher-cost prepayment meters, leaving them unable to afford to pay for “vital parts of childhood” for their children.
A conference hosted by the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Dublin on Wednesday heard of the devastating impact of soaring energy costs on households across the country, with hundreds of thousands forced to go without heating over the last year.
The conference heard:
- The number of people unable to keep their home warm more than doubled last year to 377,000 people, while 453,918 went without heating;
- The Government will have to “take action” if energy companies do not cut their bills in the near future for hard-pressed households, according to Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan
- Stark findings in an unpublished survey compiled last month by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs), with 49% of Mabs’ clients reporting going without food in the last six months to cover bills, and 64% saying they had to borrow to cover essential costs;
- Energy regulator CRU expressing continued concern about high energy prices, and fears some people may not want to register as a vulnerable customer out of pride.
St Vincent de Paul research and policy officer Issy Petrie presented a report setting out a series of actions Government and the regulator could take in the short, medium and long term to mitigate the impact of “extraordinary energy prices” on people.
“As we speak, households are building up significant amounts of energy debt,” she said. “We had 1,200 requests for assistance every day in December.
Prepay customers were finding themselves running out a few days after topping up. They were shocked at how little was left as last year that top-up would have seen them through the entire week.”
One of the recommendations was for the Government to introduce a social energy tariff, targeted at households on means-tested social welfare payments.
Ms Petrie said vulnerable customers often could not afford to avail of discounts such as paying b