A mum who cannot afford to turn on the heating says she and her children are being forced to go to bed at 6pm in a bid to keep warm.
Chantelle Stroud, 33, – who has two under-fives and a teenager – has run out of electricity and currently has just 8 on her gas meter thanks to a cold-weather payment.
She says her “big, old” private rented house is “impossible to keep warm” whilst rationing gas use.
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It means as well as going to bed as soon as it gets dark, Chantelle has also resorted to taking her children to her mums to cook, reports the Mirror.
“We have been ill for weeks and weeks, my eldest since before Christmas, the doctor says she has a problem with her lung. Her bedroom is freezing, “she said.
Chantelle, from Minster-on-Sea, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, is one of the people living below the breadline being helped by the Sheppey Support Bus.
It was launched in November to offer food support – a social supermarket on the lower deck – and fuel poverty support – offices on the upper deck – to the people of this deprived area.
The bus follows a route visiting those in need of help.
Energy prices are set to rise by more than 50 percent in April plunging millions more people like Chantelle into fuel poverty.
Deborah Clay, 48, from Sheerness-on-Sea, the bus’s next stop, has been without gas since Christmas Eve.
A former baker and confectioner battling bad health and living alone, she racked up energy debts so agreed to switch to a prepayment meter, paying off that debt incrementally from each top-up.
But on Christmas Eve when she put on £10 for gas, there was a fault and it didn’t register. She had no more to add.
Struggling to get hold of her energy supplier, out of minutes on her phone, she battled on with only electricity and then developed pneumonia. She’s been scared to put more money on and lose it.
Her voucher will clear her debt and standing charge, which has been mounting even though she hasn’t been using gas. And the energy company, finally reached, knocks off the lost £10.
“I borrowed an electric one-bar fire and have slept on the settee,” she said. “I’ve boiled the kettle to wash up, I shower maybe once a week, it sounds skanky. For cooking I’ve used the microwave and one ring on the cooker.”
William and Susan Bunce resort to sitting in the dark.
Susan, 62, cares for William, 61, who has had a mini-stroke, angina, and recently suffered pleurisy twice. He feels the cold painfully.
Susan puts £20 on electricity and £20 on gas each fortnight. It won’t reach the end of that time. An extra tenant from her carer’s allowance will usually be needed to carry them through.
The heating comes on for half an hour in the morning and one hour at night in the living room only – “and some days not at all.”
“We don’t sit with the lights on now,” she says. “There is street light outside.
“We used to shower every day, now it’s twice a week. It does get me down sometimes.”
Another woman, a mum in her twenties who asks not to be named, said she regularly chooses electricity over gas so she can feed her two children.
Today she has around £2 left on gas, £1 on electricity.
She is searching for work, her Universal Credit is not due until later this month.
“I borrow from friends, it’s a constant loop of asking,” she said.
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“I go for electric so we can eat, I have been without gas for a week.
“As soon as the kids come home from school they put their dressing gowns on and sit with duvets. If it’s sunny I keep them outside running around, it’s warmer.”
Stevie Pettitt is a fuel and water adviser for Seashells, a local family charity, whose job is to arrange emergency fuel vouchers, supplied by the Fuel Bank Foundation, to people unable to top up their gas and electricity prepayment meters.
“I feel I am putting a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. It is heartbreaking, you can hear the devastation in their voices saying ‘I’m cold’ she said.
“People will ask for food they don’t need to cook, they wear dressing gowns over their clothes, they make tea in flasks so they don’t use the kettle.
“It’s got to the point where this is all I’m doing and nothing else.”
Ofgem’s announcement for most households this week means an annual bill increase from £693 to £1,971 a year.
For those using prepayment meters, many in private rentals and social housing, that rise will be £708 to £2,017 on average.
Fuel vouchers are worth £49, originally designed to last 10 days on average, but now barely scrape a week for many – and donations are limited to three per household.
Since mid-November Stevie’s given out 185.
Fuel Bank Foundation has 149 centers across Britain handing out around 500 vouchers a day compared to 100-200 a year ago.
The testimony of the struggling families echoes those of scores of families in Greater Manchester.
Last month people in Ashton-under-Lyne and Hyde said they were struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living continues to arise.
One 19-year-old mum said: “”I’m overdrawn trying to pay my gas and electric,” says one mum as she glances down at her one-year-old daughter.
“I don’t know what to do. I’m stressed.
“I have to borrow money off my mum – I’m constantly having to borrow money off people.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.