- Date: 28/03/2022
Everything is going up.
From April 2022, interest rates, national insurance, energy bills, petrol and public transport are all set to rise significantly. This will affect most families and households across the UK, but how will those already struggling be able to survive the crisis?
Those claiming unemployment benefit are set to spend 33% on energy costs by April, compared to just 18% last year. (Citizen Advice). Inflation is also predicted to rise as high as 7% compared to 5.1% last November. (BBC) Electricity and gas bills for a typical household on a standard tariff will go up £693 a year in April too, a 54% increase. For the 4.5 million prepayment customers in the UK, the increase will be even higher at £708. (BBC)
What should we do?
Head of Customer Experience Mary Walker shares her thoughts below.
Too often people ‘bury their heads’ at difficult times and avoid the final demands or arrears letters. It is our job as a sector to support and not scare! We need to carefully review our communications to make sure they don’t send customers running to the hills but instead encourage them to lean in and accept the situation as well as our support.
We need to continually scan our local environments for support agencies and resources outside of our organisations, work in partnership to help each other and make sure our customers know who’s out there for them. Through austerity, so many providers and particularly Local Authority landlords lost key functions such as money advice, relying on charitable agencies to provide this support.
Here at Honeycomb Group, our in house team have already seen a huge increase in the amount of financial support now needed by our customers. Our Money Advice Team generated 56% additional income for customers during October 21 – January 22 compared to the same period in 2020/21. The small but extremely busy team provide over 70 hours of advice each week and reached a bittersweet record of over £1,000,000 support income generated in the last 12 months.
One of those supported by the Money Advice Team was 77-year-old tenant George. After losing his wife, George’s income had dropped significantly, and he was struggling to pay his bills. Although the team were able to help George claim additional income through benefits and discount schemes, the news of rising costs is so worrying for him. For now, George is getting by OK but he believes that when the rising costs really start to bite he will have no choice but to cut back on heating and even food. As George’s housing provider we will work tirelessly to support him, but the sad reality is pensions and salaries will not offset these costs. Many customers will have to make difficult choices and sacrifices to their quality of life. George’s family are also worried about the impact on his mental and physical health.
Although we have seen small rays of hope through promises of support with bills and council tax rebates, the bad news very much outweighs the good right now. The Prime Minister announced the Warm Home Discount will subsidise this and already ‘supports 2.2 million people to the tune of £140 a week’, but this is only a one-off payment. We must work with our local MPs and support local and national campaigns and groups to lobby government for support and resources to help our customers to survive these frightening times.
Most of all, more than ever we need to make sure we know our customers and really care about what’s happening to them. Its sometime too easy in a busy day to lose sight of the real person behind the address and tenancy reference. Our customers need to know we care about them, our cultures need to show that we care and we need to work in the most efficient, non-bureaucratic ways we possible so we can direct resources where they are needed the most.