Energy suppliers are creating Fuel Banks across the UK in partnership with the Trussell Trust and other charities. The centres will offer vouchers as a form of financial assistance for paying utility bills. The locations are being rolled out across the UK. If the centres are successful is helping the vulnerable, then the Fuel Banks will be available on a permanent basis to families facing a crisis.
The money to create these banks is coming from suppliers such as Npower, British Gas and other organisations, including National Energy Action as well as Trussell Trust. Eligible families on a low income, and that use a pre-payment meter, will receive up to a £49 credit on their bills. They can receive this grant up to 3 times per year. The voucher can be used for to pay for either gas, heating bills or electricity arrears. It is estimated that almost 6 million people may be eligible for aid from the scheme.
Criteria for receiving help from a Fuel Bank
It is expected that the programme will help over 10,000 households in its first year. As the funding and scope increases, additional low income families can receive assistance as part of this programme. The number assisted will continue to increase each year.
The voucher can not only help pay any current utility bills that are in arrears, but it will also provide assistance to people that have run out of energy for their home. It will not only help them get their electricity turned back on within a day, but additional support will be provided so that the bills will be paid for the next two weeks. This will provide the family time to either enter into some form of payment plan or apply for other financial assistance for their energy bills, such as from welfare or other organisations.
There are also customers that currently self-disconnect their power. Some people do this to save money on their energy bills and free up that cash for other expenses. This is a dangerous practice for the vulnerable as it can lead to a health or safety crisis. As an example, it is estimated that thousands of older people die each winter from lack of heat. If senior citizens were to continue to self-disconnect their gas service, it can lead to an increase in that number.
The vouchers from the fuel banks can prevent this from occurring. The assistance provided by energy suppliers or the charities may be just enough so that individuals will not feel they need to self-disconnect any more in order to save a little money.
Customers can apply for a voucher at a fuel bank up to 3 times year. There will be an application process though. The team at the Fuel Banks will assess the application, they need proof of the customer’s income, and will ensure the applicant is in a true financial hardship. Any grants for paying an electricity or gas bill are provided at their discretion, with a focus on customers with a pre-payment meter. So even though people can apply multiple times, there are no guarantees.
With the price of fuel bills up over 150% in recent years and households faced with welfare cuts such as the bedroom tax, shrinking wages, and other rising living costs, it is estimated that 10% of households are in fuel poverty. This percent is not decreasing either, and many of these individuals can apply for the scheme.
Individuals that use a pre-payment meter and that are on a low income can receive help from a Fuel Bank. They will need a referral in order to apply for a grant. This can come from social workers, food banks, welfare advice agencies, or even Gps. Local councils can also link a resident to a Fuel Bank in their district. Or find information on the programmes in the two largest UK cities of London as well as Birmingham.
For more information on applying for a credit or voucher, call your energy provider and refer to the Fuel Bank programme. This is only a trial programme for now and is offered in a limited number of cities, but more energy suppliers such as npower are rolling out it for their customers. But there may continue to be more Fuel Banks rolled out over a period of time, including for British Gas as well as EDF Energy. Or enquiries can be made with social workers or other welfare agencies. Find the phone number to ring for all of the local welfare grant schemes, as these government centres may have fuel bank vouchers as well as other energy bill assistance programmes.