In recent years, Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk has delivered energy advice with project funding from a national scheme called Energy Best Deal Extra. This project allows us to fund the work of an Energy Adviser to give specialist advice to people who would benefit from extra support. We would not be able to fund this work from our core income.
A client with serious mobility problems due to Multiple Sclerosis (MS) approached Citizens Advice with problems with her energy bill. She lived in private rented accommodation and her electricity meter was at the top of a steep flight of stairs. Due to her MS, it was not safe for her to read the meter. Previously, her bills had been based on estimates. When British Gas took a meter reading they sent her a bill for nearly £1,800. Despite the client having always paid the bills received in full, the energy company had now set a deadline for payment of the outstanding arrears in three days’ time. The client would not have been able to pay the arrears at the time.
The client was referred to our Energy Adviser through the Energy Best Deal Extra project. The Adviser contacted British Gas to try to resolve the problem. During this first call British Gas acknowledged that they had billed the client for energy she had used more than 12 months ago, which was against the rules. They immediately reduced the outstanding amount by £260. British Gas also agreed that any action would be placed on hold whilst Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk took further steps to assist the client.
Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk helped the client to apply to an energy charity for a grant to pay off the bill. British Gas agreed to fit a Smart Meter so that meter readings would be done automatically without the client or the energy company having to check them. The energy company put the client on their Priority Services Register. This is a free service where energy suppliers recognise that the customer is vulnerable and offer extra protections. A customer might be given advanced notice of planned power cuts, priority support in an emergency or extra meter reading services. With help from Citizens Advice, the client was successful in her application for a grant that cleared the full amount of arrears. The client’s problem was sorted out without debt proceedings, and she will be able to avoid going into debt in future because her bills will be accurate. Without help to resolve the problem, her tenancy could have been at risk.
Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk is able to help more people in Mid Suffolk due to our success in applying for local projects.