The cost of keeping a roof over your head, getting to work and ensuring your children are looked after while you earn a living is soaring. At the same time wages remain depressingly stagnant. Nothing adds more pressure to household budgets than rising energy costs.
Since the first increase announcement this winter, more than 41,000 people sought online advice about energy from Citizens Advice, and calls to our consumer service about energy have doubled.
Complaints from energy companies about profit margins of 5 per cent and under do not add up for consumers. It’s hard for people to comprehend millions of pounds worth of profits when you are raiding your budget to identify savings of £10 here and £5 there in order to pay the bill. This profit-protest by energy companies only intensifies an existing sense of mistrust.
After a lot of noise from the energy industry, the Prime Minister has committed to reviewing the size of levies, made up of carbon taxes, energy efficiency measures and help for fuel poor.
But the Government has failed to address the problem of fairness.
All too often the help intended to support low income families never reaches them. It is completely regressive that poorer families are paying as much towards Government energy efficiency measures as wealthier households. A fairer system would be to pick up the cost through general taxation.
We cannot be complacent about energy firms’ commitment to pass on savings to consumers “within weeks” if levies shift to taxation. The energy industry has a reputation for not passing on reductions in wholesale costs as quickly as they put prices up.
It is completely unacceptable in 2013 for people to be unable to afford to live in a warm home without racking up debts or cutting back on the food they put on the table. We urgently need fundamental market reform which puts consumers first.
Gillian Guy is the Chief Executive of Citizens Advice