A man holding an energy bill, looking worried.

Energy Debt Crisis

Struggling with energy bill debt

Scotland is facing a deepening energy bills debt crisis, with rural communities bearing the brunt. New data from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) paints a grim picture of the financial challenges many Scots are facing, including those in the East Dunbartonshire region. If you are worried about energy debt and don’t know who to turn to, give us a call and we will make sure you get the help you are entitled to.

A child dressed in warm clothes inside leaning against a radiator to stay warm.

Alarming energy debt statistics

The figures published by CAS are startling. In the fiscal year 2023/24, the average energy-related debt reported to Scotland’s Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) network was around £2,300. However, this figure climbs significantly in remote and rural areas, reaching an average of £3,047. These numbers are more than just statistics; they represent the severe financial strain on households across Scotland.

Average energy debt: £2,300 (nationwide), £3,047 (remote and rural areas)

Clients with fuel debt: Over a third of CAB clients with multiple debts include fuel debt

Market-wide average debt: £1,761 for consumers with no repayment plan

These numbers were shared with the energy regulator Ofgem, highlighting the urgent need for intervention.

Real Stories Behind the Numbers

Behind these figures are real people struggling to keep their homes warm and manage their debts. Here are a few poignant case studies from the CAS report:

Terminally Ill Client: A West of Scotland client with a terminal illness needs to keep the heating on for health reasons but has accrued over £2,600 in debt due to rising energy costs and difficulties with meter readings.

Pension-Aged Woman: In the North of Scotland, a woman with osteoarthritis stopped using her gas heating and oven due to cost concerns, resorting to a sandwich toaster for meals. Her condition worsened due to the cold.

Pension-Aged Couple: Another North of Scotland couple, both with lung conditions, saw their energy bills soar to £170, leading to arrears of £490. They reduced their electricity use drastically, even going to bed early to save on heating.

Client with a Brain Tumour: A client transitioning from a pay-as-you-go to quarterly billing received two large bills totaling around £1,889. Unable to secure a manageable repayment plan, he faced debt collection actions.

A person feels a radiator with her hand to see if it is hot.

Recommendations for Change

In response to these distressing stories, CAS has made several recommendations to Ofgem to tackle the energy debt crisis. These include:

Consistent Industry Practices: CAS calls for more robust and consistent practices across the energy industry, similar to the Financial Conduct Authority’s guidelines for dealing with arrears.

Introduction of a Social Tariff: The most significant recomme  ndation is the introduction of a social tariff. This would provide lower energy rates for low-income consumers, offering a sustainable, long-term solution to the crisis.

Support from Citizens Advice Scotland

CAS continues to provide invaluable support to those struggling with energy debts. Their network offers free, confidential, and impartial advice to help individuals manage their debts and find a way forward. As Matthew Lee, CAS social justice spokesperson, emphasised, “We don’t judge, we just help.”

The energy bills debt crisis in Scotland is a severe issue that requires immediate attention and action. With average debts soaring, particularly in rural areas, many Scots are facing impossible choices between heating their homes and other essential living costs. Citizens Advice Scotland’s recommendations to Ofgem, especially the call for a social tariff, offer a pathway to significant and lasting change. In the meantime, the support provided by CAB remains a lifeline for those in need.

For more information and to seek assistance about energy debt or any other issue you are struggling with, visit the East Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Centre by contacting us today.

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