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Citizens Advice urge energy suppliers to create “debt holidays”


The charity Citizens Advice believes customers who use pre-payment meters should be given a debt “holiday” at certain times of the year, especially in winter.
Ten million households in the UK use pre-payment meters, meaning they can not spread their energy payments throughout the year so end up with hefty bills during the colder months. They pay on average twice as much on winter gas bills as they do on summer bills, leaving them more prone to debt.

The Citizens Advice has now called for all suppliers to allow pre-pay customers to pay off some of their winter bills in the summer period - when their bills are lower. Scottish Power is currently the only supplier to allow this.

The charity has said that during 2014 there had been a 66% increase in the number of people seeking online help for paying their bills.

An analysis of figures from the regulator, Ofgem, shows that 80% of households having payment meters installed are already in debt.

There is also a worry that people on pre-paid meters may decided to turn the heating off, even on the coldest of days, leading to increased cold-related illnesses, especially in pensioners.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:
“A debt holiday would be a Christmas bonus for prepay customers. It’s an expensive time of year; for people’s energy bills as well as the other festive costs. Delaying payments for debts will mean those people struggling to afford heat and light don’t have to make severe cut-backs.

“Energy suppliers have a real opportunity to help prepay customers this winter and begin to rebuild customers’ trust. Prepay customers can pay an average of £80 more a year on gas and electricity. It’s important the prepay customers have a choice of tariff and that the industry modernises the pay as you go system by offering top ups over the phone, online and via text.”

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