Oxford City Council is providing advice and practical help to Oxford residents struggling to top up prepayment meters for gas and electricity during the coronavirus outbreak.
The energy advice team usually supports council tenants, around 40% of whom rely on prepayment meters for their gas and electricity. The team is now working with staff in locality response hubs and volunteers from Oxford Together to support all Oxford residents and has so far helped more than 75 vulnerable households with coronavirus-related energy emergencies.
In the first instance, the council says that people should contact their energy supplier to discuss any issues topping up their meters – for example, because they cannot afford to do so or are self-isolating and unable to leave their homes.
Energy suppliers have agreed to support vulnerable people on prepayment meters during the coronavirus crisis. This support includes providing cards and keys with preloaded credit, sending engineers to top up meters and negotiating affordable repayment rates once customers are able to resume normal top ups.
The council can help with support needs that vary from needing a volunteer to go to shops to top up prepayment cards or keys to help facilitating emergency credit. Residents can contact the energy advice team on 01865 252372 or email [email protected].
Charlie Payne, energy advice officer, said: “Situations can get quite serious – I helped one resident who was shielding due to a prior health condition and had coronavirus symptoms. He urgently needed to keep his electricity on so that he could phone for an ambulance if needed. Fortunately I was able to get his energy supplier to send an engineer round to top up his meter within hours. It can be stressful at times but when we get thanks from residents that makes the world of difference.”
In one case where the energy advice team facilitated an electricity top up and the sending of a gas card with preloaded credit, a resident subsequently thanked their adviser: “I got my gas card today. I wanted to leave a message to say thank you very much. You made a difference through being on the phone. And when I clap for the NHS I will be clapping for you as well.”
Citizens Advice Oxford can arrange top up fuel and food vouchers and provide other financial help – their website gives details on how residents can get advice by phone, email or webchat.
Better Housing Better Health also provides energy advice for Oxfordshire residents. This can include emergency fuel vouchers for people with prepayment meters. Residents can contact Better Housing Better Health on 0800 107 0044 (9am-5pm on weekdays) or by emailing [email protected]
Prepayment support from energy suppliers
Information about prepayment support agreed by individual energy suppliers is on the council website at www.oxford.gov.uk/prepayment
“I would advise anyone who is struggling to top up their meter or pay their energy bills to try contacting their energy supplier first. The energy industry has agreed to keep prepayment and pay as you go customers supplied with energy throughout the coronavirus crisis and to support all customers in financial distress. This could involve reassessing, reducing or pausing debt or bill repayments, so if you’re experiencing financial difficulty paying your bills it’s always worth speaking to your energy supplier.”
“There is also local help available. Our energy advice team is working with our locality response hubs and Oxford Together volunteers to help keep the gas and electric on for vulnerable residents during these difficult times. If you’re having problems with topping up your prepayment keys and cards, please call us on 01865 252372 or email [email protected].”
Councillor Tom Hayes, cabinet member for financial inclusion and zero carbon Oxford
- An elderly, self-isolating resident contacted the council after running out of funds. The money on her electricity meter and her emergency credit had run out leaving her with no power or heating. With the help of a locality response hub worker an energy advice officer held a conference call with the energy supplier and was able to get a code for the hub worker to top up the resident’s key at a local shop.
- A resident in a high-risk category who was experiencing symptoms of coronavirus contacted the council as he had no any gas or electricity on his prepayment meters. He was dependent on electricity to maintain his landline – his only way of calling emergency services and checking on an elderly relative. An energy advice officer held a conference call with the resident and his energy supplier. As a result, the supplier sent an engineer to top up the electricity meter within hours and also put a gas card with preloaded credit in the post.
- A partially-sighted resident was struggling to top up their gas meter and their family were unable to travel to Oxford to help. An energy advice officer arranged for a volunteer to take their prepayment cards to a shop to add credit and then put the cards in the meters to update the balance. The resident was also advised about the advantages of switching to a direct debit or quarterly billing meter.
- A household was struggling financially and using more electricity due to being at home more. Following a conference call with the household and an energy advice officer, the supplier reduced the debt collection amount on the smart meter to the minimum of £3 a week and added £45 to their meter. This early intervention meant that each top up would last longer and ensured the household would not run out of gas and electricity before their next pay day.