Spike in numbers looking to charity for help with bills

The Society of St Vincent de Paul in Galway has said that calls to the charity from those struggling to cope with energy costs are on the increase.

This shocking claim comes as a survey conducted by One Big Switch – a consumer network advocating a movement of customers to the cheapest provider – revealed that around 3 in 5 Irish households are considered to be in fuel poverty.

65 per cent of those surveyed met the basic definition of fuel poverty – spending more than 10 per cent of income on energy costs.

SVP Area Manager for Galway, Belinda Mullen believes that energy costs are putting extreme pressure on Galway consumers and this has caused a spike in the numbers looking for support in paying electricity bills and heating their homes.

“It is affecting Galway a lot; a lot of our calls would be in relation to energy bills, home heating oil and solid fuel.

“Even though many are in receipt of fuel allowance, they still cannot cover the costs and what we also find that people staying in apartments have storage heaters over which they have little control,” said Ms Mullen.

Fuel allowance is paid to those in receipt of social welfare payments and is granted to recipients between the months of October and April. The allowance was increased by €2.50 in last October’s Budget, and as of January 2016, is €22.50 per month.

However, Ms Mullen said that the amount does not come close to covering the costs of energy and leaves families struggling to make ends meet and still leaves people in need of food vouchers from the society.

“They are going without food to try and keep the heat going; we find that the calls are increasing more than those in relation to food and they are doing without, basically,” said Ms Mullen.

Salthill resident, Marian Lynch, is a member of the One Big Switch campaign. She believes that the only way to put pressure on energy companies was to have customers leave for more competitive rates.

She said energy companies are taking advantage of the lax approach of Irish consumers when it comes to changing providers.

“There is no incentive for being a loyal customer; the prices are rising and you just can’t keep up with it,” she said.

She recalled a situation where she received an electricity bill for €420 from one energy company but by shopping around, she has managed to have an average monthly bill of €250.

While wholesale energy prices are at a six-year low, ESB last year reported and after-tax profit 33 per cent higher than that of 2014.

The survey revealed that 32 per cent of Irish consumers were spending 11 to 20 per cent of their income on energy.

17 per cent of households were spending between 21 and 30 percent, while a further 16 per cent spent over 31 per cent of their total income on energy costs.