By Fiona Scott
When you set out to make a film about something as general as energy prices, you never really know where the film is going to go. What is this story going to look like?
For the team here at ITV Wales it took us into the realms of fuel poverty – a term we hadn’t given much thought to previously as individuals.
It’s a phrase we hear bandied about from time to time but what does it really mean? Is it a handy bargaining tool for politicians or campaigners? Or is it something real and tangible?
One thing’s for sure, we all started asking ourselves if we were in fuel poverty – and luckily, at the moment, we’re not.
There was only one way to find out what fuel poverty means and that was to speak to people who are genuinely worried about the cost of heating their homes, of keeping warm this winter.
After a couple of days, people’s concerns and worries started to come in.
We knew through research, in general terms, what those worries were likely to be, from talking to charities and consumer organisations.
But, as always, it’s the human experience which gives shape to these arguments.
Some people worry about their energy bills and they are not anywhere near being in fuel poverty. Nevertheless, their fear is just as potent.
For the record, ‘fuel poverty’ means you spend ten per cent of your disposable income on heating your home. Spending more than 20 per cent is severe fuel poverty. These definitions are currently being reassessed.
Others want to talk about the energy saving measures that have made a huge difference to their bills. Which is great. It’s fabulous if you can afford these measures, or get a grant for it to be done, or if you are able, in the future, to tap into the government’s Green Deal.
The third group were people who are struggling right here, right now. Coping with this winter seems a huge enough challenge. For some it could be life or death.
If you’ve watched the film, you’ll have heard those voices and seen those individuals.
The one story that stood out for me as the producer/director was that of Di Quinton-Adams. A woman who every day faces huge problems related to cancer – needs support to get up, to go out, to interact with the world.
This is a woman who was an accomplished professional during her career, who was used, and is used, to achieving things – she worked in the charitable sector. She’s just turned 60.
And now she feels invisible, of little value, of no worth. How many other people like Di are out there? Not being heard or seen.
As a journalist it’s not appropriate for me to apportion blame here or have a go and this company or that company, this organisation or that government.
For me, it’s enough that for a short time, a few minutes, Di was given a voice. She was both seen and heard by ITV Wales and, through us, by you – the viewer.
If you are having problems paying your energy bills or feel that you will have a problem, you can get advice and support in various ways.
The first tip is to contact your energy supplier and explain the situation. The regulator Ofgem expects suppliers to treat people fairly when it comes to debt and disconnection. There should be a contact number on your bill. Here are some helpful numbers for you:
Swalec – 0845 026 0656 (local call rate) or www.swalec.co.uk
British Gas – 0800 048 0202 www.britishgas.co.uk
It also has two debt advice centres in Cardiff:
Speakeasy Advice Centre on 02920 453111 www.speakeasyadvice.co.uk
Riverside Advice Centre on 02920 341577
EON – 0845 303 3060 (for existing customers, stay warm inquiries) or 0845 059 9905 (for existing customers, other inquiries) www.eon-uk.com
NPower – various telephone numbers depending on how you pay: refer to your bill www.npower.com
Scottish Power – 0845 2700 700 www.scottishpower.com
Some suppliers have trusts designed to help people make their home energy efficient – in the case of British Gas, you don’t have to be a customer.
British Gas Energy Saving Trust – 01733 421060 www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk
Find out if you are classed as vulnerable – can you get a better tariff? Are you entitled to the new Warm Home Discount? Every supplier will have different criteria for this discount but poor pensioners should get it automatically. Ask your supplier for details.
If you are confused about price comparison sites or switching – ask for help. Various charities will provide that support, such as Age UK or Care & Repair Cymru.
Home Heat Helpline – 0800 33 66 99 www.homeheathelpline.org.uk
Consumer Focus Wales has a Consumer Confidence Code for independent price comparison sites (there are 13 to choose from) – it’s a bit tricky to find the right area of the website but it’s www.consumerfocus.org.uk/wales, click on consumer information, energy, energy price comparison tool.
If you think you are being unfairly treated or have a complaint or just need help, you can contact Consumer Focus Wales through the Consumer Direct helpline on 02920 367800.
If you need to know more about how your bill is made up, profits of the energy companies, or the policies around the energy industry, you can find much information on the website of the regulator Ofgem with factsheets which can be downloaded – www.ofgem.gov.uk
Ofgem has teamed up with energy suppliers and the Citizens Advice Bureau for a project called Energy Best Deal, advice sessions will be taking place inWales. For details visit their website or contact your local CAB.
The Fuel Poverty Coalition Cymru is an organisation set up to lobby politicians and raise awareness of fuel poverty and keep everyone focussed on the pledge to eradicate fuel poverty. It has several key members, many of which are charities who help vulnerable groups – 02920 644520, www.fuelpovertycharterwales.org.uk
In our film, Victor Hunt said he wanted to lobby for cheaper prices for the elderly and disabled in North Wales. At his request we are publishing his e-mail contact – firstname.lastname@example.org