THE campaigning group Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has urged the Government to speed up its overhaul of pre-payment energy meters, which, the charity believes, are giving the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK the worst deals.
The call comes after a report, The Poor Pay More: Prepayment meters and self-disconnection, published by CAP on Tuesday, estimated that more than 43,000 people would go without heating this winter to make up for arrears.
The contents of the report were discussed with MPs at Westminster, immediately after its publication. Matthew Barlow, the chief executive of CAP — which works with the Church of England to provide a debt-counselling service — said that it was "inspiring" to hear MPs discuss how best to benefit people with fuel debt.
In a survey carried out by CAP with 1700 of its debt clients, four in ten were found to be on pre-payment meters. Of all such meter-users surveyed, 54 per cent said that they did not use their heating for at least one month last winter, and eight per cent did not use it at all.
About 36 per cent thought about or attempted suicide as a way out of their debt problems.
The report recommends that — while pre-payment meters are suitable for some consumers — those with "additional needs", who turn off the system because they cannot afford to top up should be recognised, and their households fitted with smart meters.
Smart meters show exact energy usage, and how much it costs in pounds and pence; they were brought in by the Coalition Government in January 2013 as an alternative to estimated bills. Smart meters are to be fitted in more than 26 million UK households by the end of 2020.
Mr Barlow said: "The Government’s introduction of smart meters may help, but that is still expected to be another five years away. . . Five years of injustice for some of the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable is five years too many."
There are 10.8-million households with a pre-payment meter in the UK. The report estimates that 85,000 properties that are in debt on their meter contain one or more persons with disabilities, and 156,000 house people with mental-health issues.
Other organisations are also campaigning against the effects of pre-payment meters. Citizens Advice has launched an initiative, Fair Play for Prepay, and the Money Advice Service has also expressed concern.