Cost-of-living crisis: ‘Disconnected, in darkness and in danger’

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Samantha Allen, chief executive of NHS North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, is demanding energy firms check their lists of protected vulnerable customers are up to date.

The move comes as separate research shows disabled people are switching off fridges, cancelling carers and have stopped buying medicines as living costs soar. 

Last week Ms Allen wrote to Ofgem’s chief executive Jonathan Brearley detailing “serious concerns” that vulnerable people have been “disconnected from their home energy supply” as a result of non payment which has “led to a hospital admission”.

She said: “This is impacting on people who live independently at home, with the support from our community health services team and are reliant on using electric devices for survival.”

It was her understanding that those deemed clinically vulnerable could not be disconnected.

And she urged the regulator to work urgently with firms to ensure patient lists are updated and checked first.

Meanwhile, research suggests that despite average energy bills being pegged lower by Liz Truss, many of the country’s 14 million disabled people are already unable to cope with inflation and rising costs.

Charity Scope pointed out many disabled people rely on extra energy for equipment and survival such as dialysis machines, hoists, electric wheelchairs, ventilation kit or suction machinery.

Of 1,050 disabled adults surveyed, almost a quarter say their income doesn’t cover their bills.

On Tuesday PM Truss lowered the average price cap to £2,500 from next month. It had been due to hit £3,549. This time last year it was £1,277. 

And James Taylor, Scope’s director of strategy, said the latest Government measure did not go far enough for many.

He added: “Freezing the price cap at twice the average cost of a year ago is a sticking plaster on the financial pain disabled people are experiencing.”

“The cost of charging a powered wheelchair has doubled in a year. Spiralling costs – energy, fuel, food and inflation – have already left many disabled households in debt and on the brink.”

“Life costs more if you are disabled. This universal approach brings some relief, but disabled people often rely on higher energy use. Remember this cap does not limit what you pay. For many disabled households, bills are still skyrocketing.”

He added: “Personal hygiene and dignity are turning into luxuries many disabled people won’t be able to afford.”

Scope’s survey found 91 percent are worried about energy bills and half will be struggling financially from October.

Almost half – 45 percent – will not switch on the heating even when they are cold.

Some 38 percent will cut back on food and skip meals, and more than 28 percent say they’ll ease up on on showering and bathing.

Others say they are already cancelling personal assistant appointments, skipping medicines and turning off technology.

Rachel Curtis, 40, looks after a disabled daughter and partner, and runs a support group for carers of disabled people in Morpeth, Northumberland. She said: “Lots of people are very frightened about how they will pay the bills. The money is not there to cover the energy costs.”

“Those people who cannot afford to pay their bills could be forced on to prepayment meters and when they can’t afford those the power will just be cut off. If you are on a breathing machine then you could die.”

Katy Styles, 53, looks after her husband who has motor neurone disease. She said: “The additional money offered by the Government to help vulnerable people with energy costs won’t even scratch the surface. 

“This is not just about putting on an extra jumper to stay warm. We have extra energy needs for vital equipment.”

Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said central support did not go far enough for pensioners either. 

She said: “We have to remember energy prices will still be rising to a level that would have previously been unthinkable.” 

An Ofgem spokesman said: “This letter from Ms Allen raises a number of serious concerns.

“We can assure people that protecting consumers is Ofgem’s top priority and we hold suppliers firmly to account on fulfilling their obligations to their customers, especially those living in vulnerable circumstances.”

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