Thelma Spalding wanders through her house every night, attempting to turn off every appliance.
It’s no simple task for the 54-year-old, who requires assistance and walks with a cane.
But, while she urgently attempts to keep her fuel expenses down, she is following the instructions provided to her by her energy provider.
After being assaulted at work, Thelma had to leave her position as an NHS support worker a year ago. Her monthly gas and electricity cost has increased from £44 to £99 since then, limiting her to just heating one room.
She’s got burns on her arms from trying to keep her wood stove burning, and she’s had to rely on food banks to get by.
She declares: “I just have one room to live in. Why am I getting taxed so much for energy and gas when it’s just myself and the dogs?
“You’re so chilly in bed that you feel like you’re sleeping outside. My caretaker puts me on two sets of leggings, a pair of pants, a vest, a T-shirt, and a dress, and I’m ready to go. The kitchen and bathroom are both freezing.”
‘Everything is going up,’ says the narrator.
She continues, ” “You’re sitting there worrying about how you’ll pay your expenses.
“Everything is increasing in value, yet the amount of money you are given remains same. I can’t sleep at night because I’m trying to figure out what I can eliminate.”
Thelma, who lives in the West Midlands town of Wednesbury, is one of millions of people who will be impacted by changes to the energy price cap, which determines the maximum amount that energy companies may charge consumers on a normal contract.
It takes effect in April and is projected to climb dramatically due to a significant increase in global wholesale pricing.
According to the Resolution Foundation, a think tank focused on living standards, a price-cap increase of more than 50% would result in typical family energy costs increasing by more than £700 per year, to about £2,000 per year.
What is the source of such high gas prices?
According to the think tank, this will push an additional four million homes in England into “fuel stress,” defined as spending more than 10% of their family budget on energy costs.
More than one in four homes would fall into this group, with one in three in north-east England and the Midlands falling into this category.
‘I’m trying to save money.’
Energy expenses for James Harpin, 33, are expected to reach £400 this year, up from £250 in 2021. He considered switching energy providers, but no one could offer him a better rate.
Everything is turned on when his daughter stays with him three nights a week. When she goes, though, he must use extreme caution.
“I’m quite aware of how much the extra electricity costs me. I’m being extremely thrifty, so instead of a bath, I’ll take a shower, and instead of turning on the heat, I’ll wrap myself in layers and blankets “James, a Wednesbury resident who was forced to leave his job due to his poor health, agrees.
“I’m delighted to take such actions personally, but I believe that keeping my baby warm is a requirement that must be met at all times.
“It’s a predicament I’ve never found myself in before this year – you shouldn’t hesitate to turn on your electric, washing, or heater, but you absolutely have to right now.”
‘It’s my main worry.’
Robert Royal, who lives nearby, says he never gave his expenses a second thought until his manufacturing job was abruptly terminated shortly before Christmas.
The 51-year-old had to spend the majority of his emergency universal credit payment on rent, leaving him with approximately £60.
He believes that his energy bill has nearly quadrupled in the three months he’s been in his flat, causing him to spend the rest of his money on electricity, forcing him to rely on a food bank for meals.
His electric storage heater “consumes power like it’s going out of style,” and he keeps a close eye on his smart meter, fearful that his rate may change at any time.
“It’s definitely my biggest fear now that I’m out of work on a temporary basis. I don’t want to wake up at 4 a.m. and discover that the meter’s emergency credit has run out.”
Thelma, James, and Robert reside in Sandwell, which is one of England’s worst-affected districts.
In 2019, one out of every five households was living in fuel poverty, which was defined as living in an energy-inefficient home with disposable income below the poverty level at the time.
‘Staggering hike’ is a term used to describe a hike that is difficult to complete
One in four of Citizens Advice’s local clients is in this predicament, up from one in ten in July, according to the borough’s energy project manager.
Because the cost has climbed so significantly, some people believe they must have been sent someone else’s energy bill by mistake.
Dame Clare Moriarty, the charity’s chief executive, said that “our front-line advisers are already aiding families facing dire choices: parents missing meals to feed their children and individuals with chronic illnesses living in one room because they can’t afford to heat their house.”
“With a massive increase in energy costs due in April, things are about to get a lot worse, and people need help right away.”
A one-time payment through the welfare system, according to Citizens Advice, is “the single greatest means of assisting low-income families weather April’s price ceiling.”
The Resolution Foundation is urging the government to extend the warm-home discount program, which allows those receiving certain benefits or living on a low income to qualify for a £140 energy bill reduction.
It wants it expanded this summer to offer an extra £300, with eligibility extended to all working-age benefits recipients and payments issued automatically.
According to a spokesperson for the government’s business department, “Millions of customers in the UK are presently protected from rising worldwide gas costs thanks to the energy price limit. The independent regulator Ofgem, not the government, determines the tariff.
“We recognize that individuals are suffering cost-of-living difficulties, which is why we are taking measures worth more than £4.2 billion, including the warm-home discount and winter-fuel payments,” said the government.