People could be at risk of missing out on their £400 energy bill rebate this winter, a leading energy campaigner has suggested.
National Energy Action warned that customers who use prepayment meters could miss out on vouchers that they receive in the post.
Amid the ongoing and desperate struggle for many people to pay their bills, Maureen Fildes said “there might be a tendency to ignore anything that comes through [in the post]”.
The £400 discount, announced by former chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier this year as a mitigation against the cost of living crisis, will be divided across six instalments starting in October.
They will be administered by energy suppliers and people who pay by standard credit, payment card or direct debit will receive automatic deductions to their bills.
However, there are concerns about the estimated two million households that use traditional prepayment meters to top up their energy supply.
They will be provided with discount vouchers in the first week of each month, issued via text message, email or post. These customers will then need to take action to redeem these at their usual top-up point, such as their nearest PayPoint or Post Office branch.
Fildes, National Energy Action's warm and safe home advice services manager, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday: “A lot of people with prepayment meters don’t really have much interaction with their energy supplier, they just top up as and when they need.
"If it’s a paper voucher we’d like to make sure that people don’t ignore any post that comes through from their supplier. It’s not going to be another bill, it’s going to be some level of support.”
She added post is a “common way of getting credits out to prepayment customers”.
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“However, if individuals are not expecting that, or they are already struggling with other household debts, there might be a tendency to ignore anything that comes through that might look like a demand.
"And in that instance people would actually be missing out on some of the support that they are entitled to and will make a little bit of a difference to how they survive the winter.”
Fildes urged customers to ensure their contact details with their supplier are up to date, and not to ignore any post that comes through from their supplier.
On Friday, the government outlined details on how the discount scheme will work.
The announcement included a specific plea for prepayment customers to “engage” with the scheme in order to get their discount, with energy minister Greg Hands saying: “I encourage families across the country to engage with these plans, and particularly those customers on traditional prepayment meters who need to take action.”
The warning comes as forecasts show a “truly unprecedented” number of prepayment customers face having their gas and electricity cut off by the end of the year.
Data from Citizens Advice suggest 21,604 households will have been unable to top up their meters by the end of December.
By contrast, in 2021, 8,618 customers were unable to top up. It means if the 2022 forecast is correct, the number who can’t afford to top up will have more than doubled in the space of 12 months.
The £400 rebate comes into force in October because this is when energy regulator Ofgem will again lift its price cap amid record increases in global gas prices. Various economists have predicted it will lead to the average annual energy bill surpassing £3,000.