‘It’s like another mortgage’ – the people of Pontarddulais react to soaring energy prices
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Of all the price rises affecting householders, energy hikes are the most striking.
The energy price cap will increase by an average of £693 for householders on default tariffs on April 1 – and there are 22 million of them in the UK – taking the average annual gas and electricity bill to £1,971. It’s a rise of 54%.
A further hike has been widely predicted when the cap is adjusted again. Some analysts reckon £3,000 is not beyond the realms in October, just as winter is looming and boilers whir back into life.
People in towns like Pontarddulais, Swansea, whose population of around 6,500 is not that rich and not that poor, are taking notice.
Everyone not on a fixed-term energy contract has a story to tell. And a sense of powerlessness.
“There’s nothing we can do about it, but it’s frightening, isn’t it?” said Matthew Cromwell, who runs No. 86 Estate Agency, St Teilo Street. “I’m not rich by any means, but I’m comfortable.”
He said he lived in an old house with high ceilings which took time to heat up. His monthly energy bill was rising from £200 per month to around £320.
“It’s becoming like another mortgage,” said the 43-year-old. “Next winter will be the test. I think we will be wrapping up warm, and shutting the curtains and doors, and putting logs on the fire.”
Elizabeth Walls is 68 and works three days a week. Her anger at what’s coming is palpable.
She said her monthly gas and electric bill a little over a year ago was £70 per month. It has risen since then and was now, she said, up to £202 per month.
“It’s affecting me massively,” she said.
Luxuries like new clothes and holidays would, she said, be put to one side.
“I should be retired by now, but if I retire my standard of living goes down,” she said. “I feel so sorry for people on benefits who are really struggling. I cannot understand why the Government has not intervened and put a tax on the energy companies.”
Lorna Powell, who lives in nearby Llannon with her husband, heats the house with heating oil.
“My husband knows how much it’s going up,” said the 52-year-old. “Some heating oil companies can’t deliver for about five weeks, and they can’t give you a price. It just creeps up and up.”
Heating oil is not protected by the energy price cap, and if anything price hikes are steeper than those of gas and electricity.
“The Government should be doing more,” said Mrs Powell. “It feels they are making the less fortunate even less fortunate.”
The majority of householders will receive £150 of Government support towards energy bills on April 1. All householders will get £200 off their bills from October, but this sum will be clawed back over the following five years. Some people will also qualify for discretionary relief.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has not ruled out further measures in October.
Factors including the rapid expansion of the global economy after Covid lockdowns have pushed gas prices up. A hot summer in Asia in 2021 increased demand for electricity-hungry air conditioning units. Weeks of balmy weather in Europe last summer becalmed wind turbines and meant more gas was needed to generate electricity. The war in Ukraine has sent wholesale gas prices into a spin.
“You can’t live in the cold,” said Craig Lewis, of Pontarddulais. He said his electricity bill was about to go up by more than 50%. His gas bill increase will be lower.
“I don’t use a lot because I live on my own,” said the 38-year-old. “You just pay it, I guess. But even Martin Lewis (MoneySavingExpert website founder) said he’s run out of ways to help.”
Ken Brace, of Pontarddulais, is phlegmatic about the energy cost problem.
“We are all going to be affected by it somewhere down the line, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said the 76-year-old.
“I’ve had nothing official come through about it yet, but you hear it’ll go up again. Everything is going up. It’s ridiculous. You buy a loaf of bread one week and it’s £1.10, and the next week it’s £1.20.
“A lot of people have kids, and it’s harder for them.”
Claire Lewis has been staying with her son at her mother’s house for a while, and is certain of higher energy bills when she goes back to her home in Pontarddulais.
“I can’t give the figures at the moment,” said the 33-year-old. “I think I pay £130 a month for gas and electricity. My house is old and quite cold – I have my heating on some summer nights.
“I will probably have to cut back on other things. I really do think people are going to struggle.”
Julie Bateman, who is disabled and on limited income, said her two sons had helped her with a £1,000 arrears on her energy bill, which she said came to light she was forced to move to a supplier of last resort.
“I didn’t know it was that much,” said the 59-year-old. “I got an email from the supplier. My reaction was, ‘Can I sell the house?’ But we’ve arranged a repayment plan.”
She said her monthly energy costs were £200. “It’s going to be a massive strain,” she said. “It’s quite worrying, actually. Everything else has gone up.”
David Leigh and his wife Louise Evans-Leigh, used to pay £100 a month for their energy. They’ve now been told it’ll be upwards of £260.
“You never thought twice about putting the heating on,” said Mrs Evans-Leigh, 41. “Now it’s only going to go on when it’s really cold.”
The couple, who run baby carrier business Rose and Rebellion, St Teilo Street, have a woodburner.
“I think we’re going to spend the whole summer collecting wood,” said Mr Leigh, 44.
They’ve noticed that the standing charge element of the energy bill, especially for electricity, has soared, meaning that actually cutting back on energy usage will have less impact than you might expect.
“We can afford it but it’ll mean cutting back on luxuries and not putting it towards savings,” said Mrs Evans-Leigh.
The couple said the Government wasn’t helping enough, and should impose a windfall tax on energy producers.
Shell announced £6.4 billion profits in the last quarter of 2021, driven by the surge in gas and oil prices. It has been reported that the UK-based company will invest up to £25 billion into the UK’s energy system over the next decade, three-quarters of which will be in “zero carbon” products and services.
Back in Pontarddulais, Hilary Constable’s energy bill rose from £40 per month to £65 and was set to rise again to £105 in April, but she wasn’t having it.
“I rang them, and said I can’t afford it,” said the 64-year-old, who lives in a two-bedroom flat and works part-time. “I said that’s food off my table.”
She said she will pay £70 per month and keep in regular touch with her supplier about her usage, and take it from there.
She said she threw an electric blanket over herself when she watched the television in cold weather, rather than put the electric heating on.
Reflecting on the rising prices on all fronts, she said: “It’s scary. You put fuel in the tank and you realise it’s more than your food shopping bill.”
Pontarddulais councillor Phil Downing, who runs a foodbank in the town, said his monthly energy bill was rising by £53.
“People on minimum wage, I do feel very sorry for them,” he said.
Cllr Downing said people who needed the help of the foodbank were saying they had to choose between heating and eating.
“That’s becoming more of a practice in households,” he said.
Energy regulator Ofgem said it was too early to say how the energy price cap will change in October. It wants more diversification of energy sources to protect customers from future price shocks.
Referring to the April energy cap rise, an Ofgem spokeswoman said: “We know this rise will be extremely worrying for many people. The energy market has faced a huge challenge due to the unprecedented increase in global gas prices, a once in a 30-year event, and Ofgem’s role as energy regulator is to ensure that, under the price cap, energy companies can only charge a fair price based on the true cost of supplying electricity and gas.”
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