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Record year for fuel debt in UK

Thursday 15th March 2012

Debt advice charity the Money Advice Trust is reporting that its National Debtline has seen a significant increase in the number of people it helps with fuel debts since it started recording the figures in 2004.

Seven years ago fuel debts accounted for just 2.7% of all calls to National Debtline, last year that figure had increased to 13.7%. As the prices for gas and electricity services have increased, the number of people struggling to afford to heat and power their homes has grown exponentially. In 2011 more than 27,000 people, a record number, contacted National Debtline for help with fuel debts. In January this year, the helpline received a call for help with gas and electricity debts every five minutes its lines were open.

The Money Advice Trust is now warning consumers that they risk being cut off from gas and electricity if they fail to keep up with payments, and urging them to seek advice early to make sure this doesn't happen.

Joanna Elson OBE, Chief Executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: "Increasing energy costs mean most of us have to pay increasing attention to how much gas or electricity we use and whether or not we have the right tariff. It is a serious problem in this country that so many people will be wondering whether they can afford to boil a kettle or turn on the heating.

"We are now taking well over 2000 calls a month for help with fuel debts. The growth in the number of people struggling to meet energy bills reflects a sharp increase in prices over the last few years. The cost of heating and powering a home takes up much more of our income than it did six or seven years ago. There will be expensive gas and electricity bills dropping onto doormats across the country this month, and these bills must be treated as a priority as gas and electricity companies can cut off your supply in a few weeks if you don't pay them. No court is involved in this decision.

"Fortunately there are options available to those who are struggling. Organisations like National Debtline can help you put together a budget and identify whether you are paying too much for your gas and electricity. People can also go through this process online at www.mymoneysteps.org/. Advice can also help prioritise debts and come up with a plan for tackling them, as well as offering tips on how to contact your provider to arrange an affordable repayment plan, or use a pre-payment meter."

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Mike Jones

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