A new pilot scheme, that is aimed at aiding families who struggle to pay their energy bills, will be rolled out this year. This plan is being referred to as the “fuel bank” initiative and will allow £49 to households in need of help. The scheme is being pioneered by Npower and a number of charities across the country.
These fuel vouchers will allow households to restore energy to their home, if it has been cut off, and will supposedly provide enough money to supply lights and heating for up to a fortnight. People eligible for this scheme will be those who have been referred to food banks by the relevant organisations.
Frank Field, a Labour MP, has dubbed this initiative “an important breakthrough” in helping homes that often have to choose between buying food or buying energy.
However this move has been criticised by some as nothing more than a publicity stunt by Npower. These critics say that this initiative is being used as a smokescreen to distract the public from the vastly profiting energy companies, and also from other cuts to the welfare system – blamed for the rise in fuel poverty in the first place.
This plan will be tested in 21 different locations across the UK, such as Durham and Kingston-upon-Thames. If the plan succeeds in its aims, then it can be expected to be offered nationwide in the future. If it is to be offered across the country, it will aim to help 13,000 households in year one.
These fuel vouchers will be distributed in ways similar to the distribution of food vouchers. They will be given to families that approved organisations have described as being “in crisis”.
David McAuley, CEO of Trussell’s food bank, stated:
“In many cases people coming to food banks can be facing financial hardship that leaves them both hungry and in fuel poverty. By providing npower fuel bank vouchers at food banks, we can make sure that people who are most vulnerable are not only given three days’ food, but can turn on the energy supply to cook it and heat their homes too.”
However, Liz Wyatt member of the Fuel Poverty Action group, had a more sceptical view of these plans:
“These fuel banks will do nothing to hide the harmful actions of the Big Six, including home break-ins to install unwanted prepayment meters, visits by bailiffs, and energy supply disconnections to vulnerable households”
“Our current, for-profit energy system is broken – only an affordable, public, and renewable energy system will make a meaningful difference to those affected by fuel poverty and energy debt. With the huge majority of public opinion in favour of public energy, it’s no wonder the Big Six are trying to improve their image.”