SOME of the most vulnerable people in Scotland are set to miss out on over £29m of lifeline Government help as the cost of living crisis continues.

Since October 2022, millions of eligible English, Scottish and Welsh households were to receive £400 off their energy bills in six monthly instalments of £66 or £67.

But there are concerns that at least 50,000 of the most disadvantaged in the country have lost out through the  Energy Bills Support Scheme  (EBSS) - because the money has not reached them.

The scheme ended in March, but anti-poverty campaigners are concerned that almost half a million payments have yet to be made by energy firms to Scots consumers while vouchers must be redeemed by the end of next month.

Based on figures for the first five months of the scheme, seen by the Herald, more than one in four energy vouchers issued for those with pre-payment meters have not been cashed in.

Some 986,790 vouchers were issued over the five months under the Government’s energy bill support scheme - but some 251,170 have not been redeemed.

And a further 184,130 payments have not yet been delivered by energy firms to customers.

End Fuel Poverty Coalition which has been tracking the payments said energy firms needed to use every avenue possible to make sure they reach people.

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They said they and the government should do more to encourage redemption of the vouchers including extending the deadline for having vouchers reissued and cashed in.


Frazer Scott (above), chief executive of Energy Action Scotland said: “It is simply disgraceful that so many households have been failed by Government support. The EBSS vouchers expire in June and it is now unlikely that most of these households will now receive some or all of the £400 to which they are entitled."

Most of the homes in England, Scotland and Wales pay their energy bill by direct debit and have been getting about £66 a month knocked off their bills or credited to their account automatically.

But the system has been more complex for the 500,000 Scots households that have a traditional pre-payment meter for their gas or electricity. They receive the support through vouchers in the post or via email.

The vouchers then need to be taken to a local PayPoint store or a Post Office to be credited onto a meter.

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Many households with traditional pre-payment meters are considered among the most vulnerable. Customers pay for their energy in advance, either through an account or using a top-up card and in many cases these meters have often been fitted when people have a history of missing bill payments.

Last summer of the half million Scots customers on prepayment meters, some 203,484 were on smart meters and 294,459 are traditional meters.

It is estimated that over 15,000 Scots households with smart meters were remotely switched to more costly prepayment plans by their energy supplier in 2021. And around 6,000 households were estimated to have been switched over a three month period till November, last year alone.

Analysis by the coalition further reveals that in some areas of Scotland more than 1 in 20 EBSS payments have either not been delivered or vouchers redeemed.

The area with the worst figures is West Dumbartonshire where 5.17% of payments have not been delivered or redeemed worth over £660,000.

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In Glasgow alone, where 5.01% of payments are missing, the total value of these payments runs to £4.1m. And in Edinburgh 3.63% of payments are so far lost amounting to £2.534m.

Rural areas are also hit with poor delivery rates, such as Na h-Eileanan Siar where 4.86% of payments are yet to be made or redeemed. In Dumfries and Galloway over 10,000 payments have been missed.

Across the whole of the UK, energy firms still owe £241m to households through the support scheme, a majority of that being through vouchers.

Mr Scott added: “People will have simply gone without heat and power across the coldest months putting their health and wellbeing at risk. It is made all the more difficult due to the credit holding limitations of older prepayment electricity meters. This ranges from £99 to £250 depending on your meter and supplier.

"The larger the outstanding voucher value, if you have it, the more difficult it may be to apply it.

“Those living in rural areas face even more barriers to accessing the value of their vouchers with many having to pay significant travel costs to access their local post office or other redemption point.

“It isn’t right that those in the lowest incomes are enduring yet another unfairness in a system that for the majority, including the most wealthy of households, people with multiple homes, was provided automatically.”

Those with traditional prepayment meters receive vouchers via text message, email or post by the 11th day of each month, according to industry regulator Ofgem.

All vouchers expire 90 days after issue, after which point they will need to be re-sent. For example, January's vouchers would have expired earlier in April.

Outstanding vouchers can be redeemed at customers' local Post Office or PayPoint.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition which is part of the Warm This Winter campaign, said: “Many energy firms are making efforts to track down customers and deliver payments to them, but this work must continue until they have exhausted every avenue to get money into the hands of people who need it.

"However, what is very concerning about these figures, is that the Energy Bills Support Scheme is not getting through to the very areas of the country which need it most.

"If anyone feels that they may have missed out on Energy Bills Support Scheme payment they should contact their energy firm immediately."

An Energy UK spokesman said: “As they have done since moving quickly to deliver support schemes like this, suppliers continue to make repeated efforts – using the channels and contact details available to them – to encourage customers to redeem these vouchers. There may be different reasons why customers have received their vouchers from suppliers but not redeemed them yet - so the industry will continuing working with partner outlets like Paypoint and Post Office, as well as consumer groups like Citizens Advice, to raise awareness.

"Suppliers are using the full range of communication channels to try and reach customers who haven’t claimed yet, including emails, post, phone calls, texts and home visits.

"Customers with traditional prepayment meters are advised to ensure their contact details are up to date and to check regularly for any communication from their supplier. Anyone worried about missing their vouchers or struggling to pay their bills should get in touch with their energy supplier - as there is still time to claim these.”

EBSS has been delivered on top of the energy price guarantee, a  temporary additional measure brought in by government to protect consumers from  significant increases in wholesale gas prices.

The subsidy cuts the amount people are charged per unit of gas or electricity, to an annual equivalent of around £2,500 for a typical household using gas and electricity in Great Britain.

That maximum limit had been scheduled to rise to £3,000 a year from April, but the government announced that it would continue at the same level for another three months. The chancellor said in March this will save the average family £160.

The guarantee is scheduled to be in place until April 2024.

Prices will then be controlled by the return of the energy price cap, which is set every three months by Ofgem, the energy industry regulator.

It confirms the maximum price suppliers can charge households per unit of energy on a standard - or default - tariff in normal circumstances.

A UK Government spokesman said:  “We know this has been a difficult time for families, including in Scotland, which is why we have been covering around half of the typical household's energy bill.  

“Figures show 78% of energy support vouchers have now been used by customers. Suppliers must make at least three attempts to reach customers if a voucher is not used. 

“Customers have until 30 June to use their voucher and should contact their energy supplier if their voucher is lost, damaged or has expired.” 

The government said it had carried "extensive" communications, including through a Help for Households campaign, to ensure as many people as possible use the vouchers.  

"This work continues alongside enhanced effort by electricity suppliers to reach customers with unused vouchers before they expire on 30 June," said a spokeman.