Debt leads to ‘children living in cold homes’

ALMOST a quarter of a million children in Yorkshire are at increased risk of becoming ill because they live in families who have fallen behind with their energy bills, a charity has warned.

Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire

The Children’s Society has published a report today which claims almost a quarter (24 per cent) of children living in families who have been in energy debt have had trouble sleeping because their bedroom was too cold.

And it criticises energy companies for using “damaging debt practices” when families fall behind, leaving homes cold and harming children’s health.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Suppliers are legally required to assess how much of their debt families can realistically afford to repay. They are also required to make it easy for customers to raise concerns.

But the new report Show Some Warmth: Exposing the damaging impact of energy debt on children, claims that in many cases this is not happening.

The research highlights how almost one third of parents falling into energy debt across Yorkshire found their energy company aggressive, or felt intimidated by their supplier, with more than half (53 per cent) saying they were not treated with respect or given the support they needed.

And almost two thirds (63 per cent) suffered anxiety, stress or depression as a result of getting into energy debt.

The charity said that families in energy debt are often forced to choose between keeping their children warm and paying down debt.

The Children’s Society’s chief executive Matthew Reed said: “Huge numbers of families in Yorkshire are struggling to make ends meet yet companies are making them the victims of their damaging debt practices.

“It is time they show some warmth and stop failing vulnerable families. They need to follow their agreements to work with, not against, families in energy debt and find workable solutions.

“No child should be made to grow up in a cold home because their parents are trapped in an energy debt trap.”

Research by The Children’s Society shows that 126,000 families in Yorkshire – 19 per cent of the total – are in, or have experienced, energy debt. It means an estimated 219,000 children across the region are living in families who are either in energy debt or have been in the past.

It has also been revealed today that consumers are continuing to receive a poor deal from the Big Six energy suppliers, with smaller providers scoring far higher for the fourth year in a row, according to an annual survey.

The six largest companies, which account for 90 per cent of the market, all ranked towards the bottom of the table in the latest Which? energy company satisfaction survey.