AN ENERGY supplier has issued an urgent appeal for the government to give more aid to vulnerable households when the current help with bills ends.

Utilita, based in Chandler's Ford, has written to business and energy secretary Grant Shapps urging him to announce “substantial and tightly targeted additional support”.

Non-executive chair Derek Lickorish said the current energy price guarantee should remain at its current level of £2,500 after April 1 “to provide vulnerable households with greater insulation from short-term price shock” before the energy price cap is reviewed.

“It would also allow time for government and industry to work closely together to design and implement better-targeted support those who need it most in winter 2023/24,” he said.

“There is already much anxiety over the challenges the sector will face next winter.”

Mr Lickorish voiced his disappointment that Mr Shapps did not attend an industry “round table” event.

He responded to concerns the minister had raised about pre-payment meters, saying the suppliers had agreed meters were “not the primary issue”.

“Affordability is the main problem and will be for some time,” he added.

He said many of the poorest households would be better served by switching to pre-payment meters rather than when a bill arrived.

When the government’s energy support was downloaded directly to smart prepayment meters in October, the number of “self-disconnections”, when a customer does not have enough money on the meter to pay for power, nearly halved, Mr Lickorish said.

He said Utilita carried out monitoring of its 1.3million smart meter customers every five minutes.

“When a vulnerable household’s self-disconnection is detected the customer is contacted immediately to offer support to keep them on supply,” he added.

Earlier this week, the government launched a crackdown on “rogue” energy suppliers and who force customers to accept pre-payment meters.

Mr Shapps said: “I am deeply concerned to see reports of customers being switched to prepayment meters against their will, with some disconnected from supply - and quite literally left in the dark.

“Rather than immediately reaching for a new way to extract money out of customers, I want suppliers to stop this practice and lend a more sympathetic ear, offering the kind of forbearance and support that a vulnerable customer struggling to pay should be able to expect.”

Energy minister Graham Stuart said: “Switching users onto a prepayment plan should only ever be a very last resort and suppliers have a duty to exhaust all other avenues. It cannot be right that, at a time when consumers need compassionate treatment more than ever, so many are being let down in this way.”

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