Social Justice

Record numbers of people are seeking help because they can't pay their energy bills

A new data dashboard from Citizens Advice paints a bleak picture of the realities of the cost of living crisis.

Citizens Advice/ Cost of living crisis/ Image of food banks

Citizens Advice are referring record numbers of people to food banks. Image: Unsplash

Unprecedented numbers of people are seeking help from Citizens Advice because they cannot afford the basics during the cost of living crisis.

A new data dashboard from the service shows the stark realities of soaring prices. There are more people than ever approaching the service because they can’t afford food, need advice on their energy bills or they can’t afford to use energy at all. 

Citizens Advice is seeing a “truly unprecedented number of people who can’t afford to top up their prepayment energy meter”. That means they can’t afford the basics like turning on their fridge or heating their hob. By the end of June, more people had approached Citizens Advice about their energy bills than in each of the past three years. 

If people can’t afford to top up their prepayment meter, they can’t afford basics like turning on their fridge or heating their hob. Graph: Citizens Advice

In another unwelcome record, more people than ever are coming to the service because they can’t afford to eat, and so need a food bank referral. 

The number of people needing referrals or another form of charitable support has already exceeded the rate for 2020 and 2019. In May this year, 91,923 people were referred to a food bank or charity by Citizens Advice. It is estimated that, by December, nearly 213,000 people will be referred to crisis support each month. And the numbers are only expected to rise from there.

Record numbers of people have been referred to crisis support, including food banks and charities, this year. Graph: Citizens Advice

Particular groups are “faring worse”. The numbers of single people, social housing tenants and disabled people needing food bank referrals has risen dramatically over the course of the past year.

Disabled people are now approaching Citizens Advice about the cost of living more than any other issue. Their energy bills are likely to be higher. Charity Scope warned earlier this year that the number of people with disabilities who are severely struggling to pay energy bills could more than double by the end of 2022. 

Numbers of people with a disability or long-term health condition referred to a food bank compared to those without health problems. Graph: Citizens Advice.

Between March and June this year, Citizens Advice referred more than 28,000 people with a disability or long-term health condition to a food bank. This is in comparison to just over 17,600 people referred to a food bank who didn’t have a disability or health condition. 

Staff at Citizens Advice are “particularly worried” about people who are not eligible for support, such as those with no recourse to public funds because of their immigration status. 

They are also concerned about people who are on a negative budget, when their monthly outgoings exceed their income. They have never seen a higher proportion of people in a negative budget. Almost half (49 per cent) of single adults they support have monthly spendings which exceed their salary. 

Single adults are most likely to have a monthly spending which exceeds their budget. Graph: Citizens Advice

As households feel the strain on their budgets, more people are approaching Citizens Advice with debt issues – although not quite yet at the levels seen before the pandemic. 

Citizens Advice warn that “this might change” with the rise in energy debts a particularly “worrying trend”. The value of energy debts is now almost twice what it was in 2019.

The dashboard, which paints a bleak picture of the current situation, will be updated each month tracking how the cost of living crisis is changing. Citizens Advice claim: “This is a central test for government policy over the coming months: can it turn these trends around?”

You can see the full data in Citizens Advice’s dashboard here. If you need support, get in touch with Citizens Advice.

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