'Incredibly stressed' - charity shares people's cost of living fears

Energy bills

Energy prices will rise by £693 a year for millions of households after regulator Ofgem hiked the price cap on bills to £1,971 or 54pc. Inset: Jane Basham, chief executive of Norfolk Community Law Service. - Credit: PA / Norfolk Community Law Service

The cost of living crisis - and energy bill hikes - risks sending more people into debt and heaping further stress upon people already struggling, a Norwich charity has warned.

Energy bills are to soar by 54pc for 22 million households from April, adding £693 to annual bills.

Energy bills are to rise

Energy bills are to soar by 54pc for 22 million households from April. - Credit: PA

Regulator Ofgem increased the energy price cap, which limits the rates companies can charge, because gas prices soared.

It comes as oil giant Shell revealed a 14-fold increase in profits as the company benefited from the spike in global prices.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street, London, before heading to the House of Commons to

Chancellor Rishi Sunak. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

There was controversy around chancellor Rishi Sunak's £200 energy bill rebate - effectively a loan - with people's bills going up £40 per year for five years to claw the money back.

And Norfolk Community Law Service, based in Norwich's Prince of Wales Road, warned people's mental health will suffer and more will be pushed into debt.

Charlie Sayer

Charlie Sayer, welfare rights manager at Norfolk Community Law Service. - Credit: Bob Hobbs

Welfare rights manager Charlie Sayer said: "It is commonplace in our client group for clients to say they eat less well , wash less often due to hot water costs, have their heating on for less than they need to be warm because they can’t afford it.

"That is before the price cap rise. The change is likely to have a very real and critically negative impact on this client group, many of whom have to spend most of their time isolated in their own homes due to ill health."

Jane Basham

Jane Basham, chief executive of Norfolk Community Law Service. - Credit: Norfolk Community Law Service

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Jane Basham, chief executive officer at the charity, said the government could have kept the existing energy cap and levied a windfall tax on the  profits of big suppliers.

She said degrading assessments and punitive benefit sanctions for people who cannot work should stop and all Norfolk employers should pay the Living Wage to those who can.

Ms Basham called for the £20 taken away from people in receipt of Universal Credit to be reinstated, for a fair rent scheme, a moratorium on evictions and a crackdown on loan sharks.

She said: "In the meantime, we and other Norfolk charities, local public servants and businesses will do what we can to mitigate the impacts.

"But when it is only crumbs that we have to offer, then sadly the famine is here to stay."

Norfolk Community Law Service in Norwich

Norfolk Community Law Service, based in Prince of Wales Road in Norwich. - Credit: Norfolk Community Law Service

How people could be affected

Claire* approached Norfolk Community Law Service in April last year for help with her Personal Independence Payment (PIP), after she was signed off work because of a decline in her physical and mental health.

She was awarded £60 per week, but after her statutory sick pay ended she made a claim for Employment Support Allowance - but has yet to receive any money.

She is living on £240 a month and has ended up in debt after borrowing money to make ends meet.

Ms Basham said: "We have provided her with a £50 supermarket voucher, which is helpful, but only a very small contribution to a client in a very difficult financial situation.

"The rise in the fuel cap will put her under pressure she can ill afford financially, will increase her stress levels, which was the basis of her losing her job in the first place, and will therefore have a detrimental impact on her efforts to get well and back to work."

Paul* went to the charity because his PIP had been stopped. He is middle aged single, in poor mental and physical health living in a housing association bungalow.

During the period he was without that income he only put the heating on once a week for two hrs to dry essential washing and stopped having baths and showers as he couldn’t afford to have the hot water on. He was reliant on a soup kitchen for a hot daily meal.

Ms Basham said: "PIP was reinstated after six months. But were that loss of income to happen now, or once the price cap rises he would be at crisis point financially, and then mentally and physically pretty immediately."

Single mum-of-two Sarah* went to the charity for help in December.

She is receiving benefit only income at present, including carer’s allowance and Disability Living Allowance for her son.

Her total income is £900 a month. She already has utility arrears with her energy company and is struggling to afford payments for ongoing bills.

Ms Basham said: "With a huge increase to her bills on the horizon, two young children at home, benefit only income, and an inability to work due to her caring responsibilities for her son, Sarah is incredibly stressed about how she will manage financially when her energy bills rise dramatically."

* The names of the clients have been changed.