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Free gas and electric vouchers are available to qualifying households to give extra help to those who pay for their energy using a prepayment meter.
Analysis from Citizens Advice shows one in four (24%) people in the UK simply won’t be able to afford to pay their energy bills in October, when the energy price cap (opens in new tab) rises, based on current forecasts. This is double the number already in the red.
Uswitch.com energy expert Sarah Broomfield (opens in new tab) says: “People on prepayment meters are hardest hit by price rises because they are charged more for energy than those paying by direct debit.
“This means the financially vulnerable have the highest bills of all on a like-for-like basis. They are also less likely to be able to deal with sudden increases in energy prices, as their supplier is not building up a credit balance on their behalf as they do with most direct debit customers.”
If you're worried about how much your energy bills will cost from October (opens in new tab), in spite of the £400 energy rebate (opens in new tab) that is due to be applied to bills from the same time, it's worth seeing whether you qualify for a free fuel voucher to help ease the pressure.
Where can I get free gas and electric vouchers?
The fuel voucher scheme is run by the Fuel Bank Foundation and free fuel vouchers are distributed via its partner organisations, which include local authorities, food banks and Citizens Advice.
Matthew Cole (opens in new tab), head of Fuel Bank Foundation, says: “Fuel vouchers are for people in fuel crisis – or who will be in a day or two – who prepay for their energy, and don’t have the money to top up their meter.
“We work with about 350 partner organisations who refer people to us. Referral organisations include food banks, GPs, and housing associations. People with prepayment meters tend to be on a low or fixed income with no assets or savings. They need more help in the winter as unlike direct debit customers they don’t build up credit during the summer.”
Some people eligible for fuel vouchers will have already ‘self-disconnected’ from their gas or electricity supply because they simply can’t afford to top up their meter. Other households eligible for vouchers will be deemed to be ‘at risk of self-disconnection’.
Am I eligible for a free fuel voucher?
In order to be eligible for a fuel voucher, you’ll need to be referred for support by one of the Fuel Bank Foundation’s referral partners such as a food bank, a local council or Citizen’s Advice.
Eligibility criteria may vary between organisations. For example, in Lewes and Eastbourne Councils households need to be ‘vulnerable’ due to age or a health condition, as well as being on a ‘limited income’ or means-tested benefits.
To be eligible for a fuel voucher from Manchester City Council you need to have zero capital or savings and also be claiming certain benefits. In addition, your household must also include a child under five-years-old, someone with a disability or serious health needs, someone over pension age, or a vulnerable person.
You will also need to be on a prepayment meter, where you pay for your energy before you use it.
Prepayment meters have more expensive tariffs than post-pay meters. They also have a different energy price cap to post-pay customers. The price cap for prepayment customers will rise from £2,017 to £3,608 on 1 October, meaning these customers will pay an average of £301 a month to heat their homes, where the average post-pay, or standard meter, customer paying by direct debit will pay an average of £296 per month.
Wendy King of EnergyGuide.org.uk (opens in new tab) says: “The reality is that prepayment energy tariffs or ‘pay as you go’ tariffs are the most expensive. Worse still is that those who use prepayment meters are more likely to be from a poor socio-economic background and already at risk of fuel poverty.
“In fact, prepayment energy meters are often installed in households of energy consumers who fall behind on their payments and accumulate debt. The justification for this is that it makes it easier for them to manage their spending and keep tabs of their energy usage.”
How much are the vouchers for?
Fuel vouchers are for up to £49, but the value of voucher you may be eligible for will depend on where you live and what your circumstances are. Some schemes offer different value vouchers depending on the time of year. For example, in Wales you can get £30 in summer and £49 in winter.
In other areas, the value of the vouchers depends on your household. For example, in Lewes and Eastbourne, single people can get a voucher for £28 while families get £49.
In Lancashire the vouchers are £30, and you can get up to three per year.
How can I use a fuel voucher?
Fuel vouchers for gas and electricity are given to households in the form of a code sent by letter, text or email. To redeem the voucher, take the code, a form of ID, and a bill showing your name and address, to either a PayPoint or a Post Office with Payzone.
You need to use your fuel voucher within three months of receiving it, and you’ll be required to use the full value of the voucher in one go. You can choose how you split the voucher between gas and electricity.
What should I do if I don’t qualify for a fuel voucher and can’t afford to top up?
If you don’t qualify for a fuel voucher, or you do and you’re still struggling to pay for gas and electricity, make sure you’re aware of the energy bill help (opens in new tab) available.
Firstly, speak to your energy provider, they can advise you on ways you can reduce your bill, whether that’s by swapping you on to a different meter or putting you on a more affordable payment plan. Your supplier could also help get you on to the Priority Services Register, which could mean easier access to emergency credit if you need it.
Don’t forget that from October, the £400 energy rebate will start to be paid, which will reduce bills a bit. There will also be the second instalment of the £650 cost of living payment for low-income households due at some point in the autumn.
We know this is a difficult time for many people as household budgets come under pressure. If you need to talk to someone, there is free support from the Samaritans (opens in new tab). You can call for free on 116 123.