Support for vulnerable home energy users, including customers on prepayment meters (PPM), is reaching the right targets, the government claims.
January alone saw 1.7 million vouchers used under the Energy Bills Support Scheme, bringing the total redeemed to 76%, new energy ministry D-ESNZ asserts in a statement today.
Over £7.2 billion has been provided to 98% of eligible households in England, Scotland and Wales, the ministry claims. Voucher redemption rates across suppliers have ranged from 68% to 87%.
The figures come on the back of a government-funded publicity drive, including pressure on suppliers from energy secretary Grant Shapps to publicise entitlements to the help. But Whitehall ministers continue to look to local leaders including councils to repeat the message.
Funds disbursed so far under the Energy Bills Support scheme total £530 million. The cash comes in the form of monthly vouchers totalling £400 to help with energy costs.
The two power suppliers achieving the highest rates of voucher redemptions include E Gas & Electricity and Octopus. Here PPM customers redeemed 87% and 85% of their vouchers respectively.
The five suppliers with the largest number of PPM customers – Centrica’s British Gas, E.On, Ovo, EDF and Scottish Power – all showed an increased number of voucher redemptions, the ministry reports. The quintet remained amongst suppliers with the lowest rates overall, however.
British Gas provoked revulsion and a rebuke from energy secretary Shapps & from Ofgem, following revelations two weeks ago that it employed debt collection specialists to install PPMs forcibly in some struggling homes. The Centrica offshoot immediately suspended its contractor.
Additional cross-media advertising has pushed up redemption levels, meaning support reached more of these households than at any other point since the EBSS scheme was announced last summer. Eligibility began in October..
However, even with this improvement, around 1.9 million vouchers remain unredeemed. So the government is calling on suppliers to continue efforts to reach customers.
Laggard regions for cashing in vouchers issued are London on 58%, Scotland on 68% and the Southeast of England on 69%. Over a third of vouchers remain unclaimed in sime London’s boroughs. Edinburgh, on 59%, Glasgow on 62% and Brighton on 61% are other pockets of claimant inertia, power companies’ data reveals.
Energy security secretary Shapps said:
“The help we’ve put in place means we are covering around half of most household’s energy bill this winter. This is an unprecedented level of support.
“But many households are yet to redeem the vouchers they are entitled to and I want energy companies to redouble their efforts to get the support to those who need it.”
Most people receive the discount automatically each month they are eligible. people using a traditional PPM receive this in the form of vouchers that need to be redeemed at a Post Office or PayPoint.
Suppliers have a responsibility to inform their PPM customers how to access government support using the vouchers and must make several attempts to contact people who haven’t redeemed them.
Representing more than 350 councils across England and Wales, the chair of the Local Government Association Cllr James Jamieson said:
“Councils are working hard to ensure this support reaches those who need it, ramping up efforts up and down the country. As families are squeezed during the cost of living crisis, it is vital that households claim the support they are entitled to.”