Fuel poverty will spell more food poverty says food campaigner Kay Johnson

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Preston Larder boss warns of choice between food or fuel for families in need this winter with gas and electric prices set to soar.

The founder of city food cooperative Preston Larder has warned that rising domestic fuel bills could force city families further into food poverty.

Speaking after energy regulator Ofgem announced a rise in the industry's price cap Kay Johnson said: "The increase in fuel prices is going to be another blow for people who are already struggling financially. It might not make too much difference to their household budgets over the warmer months, but during the winter people will be forced to make a decision over whether they 'heat or eat'."

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She continued: "Cooking is also difficult for those trying to juggle what little income they may have and many will have to choose instant meals that only require boiling water over putting the oven on to make a healthy meal."

Kay Johnson, founder of Preston Larder, pictured at the Larder cafe on Lancaster RoadKay Johnson, founder of Preston Larder, pictured at the Larder cafe on Lancaster Road
Kay Johnson, founder of Preston Larder, pictured at the Larder cafe on Lancaster Road

Kay, who was awarded the MBE for her services to food nutrition and the community, added: "At the Larder we are delivering free online cooking courses for families to help them to find more affordable ways to enjoy tasty balanced meals. Our Kids in the Kitchen programme runs throughout the school holidays for children eligible for free school meals."

Preston Larder is a social enterprise.

It has been predicted that across the UK 15 million households will face increases in fuel bills of between £139 for those on default tariffs and £153 a year for pre-payment customers, after a 12 per cent ceiling on rises in fuel costs was approved. Those on default tariffs who pay bills by direct debit would see the bills rise from £1,138 to £1,277 and pre-payment customers would see an increase from from £1,156 to £1,309.

Ofgem, which reviews its price cap every six months, said the new price cap, which comes into effect in October, is driven by an increase in wholesale fuel costs, with gas prices at a record high. It said: "This increase is driven by a rise of over 50% in energy costs over the last six months with gas prices hitting a record high as the world emerges from lockdown."

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The Larder cafe on Lancaster Road, PrestonThe Larder cafe on Lancaster Road, Preston
The Larder cafe on Lancaster Road, Preston

The cap was introduced as a safety net for customers to ensure suppliers pass on only legitimate costs.

Those concerned about the future rise, which follows an average £96 a year fuel bill rise in April, are being advised to contact their suppliers to see if any help is available or to change supplier.

Ofgem advised: "Customers may be eligible for extra help such as affordable debt repayment plans or payment breaks, emergency credit for prepayment meters and a £140 bill rebate under the Warm Home Discount."

The Ofgem website is urging customers to check if they are affected by the price cap. It says: "It's likely your energy tariff is price-capped if you haven't switched or your fixed-deal has ended. The energy price cap is a backstop, keeping charges fair if you don't shop around. It's best to switch to get the best energy rates for you."

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It continues: "The energy price cap is backstop protection from the government, calculated by Ofgem. It applies if you’re on a default energy tariff, whether you pay by direct debit, standard credit or a prepayment meter. It won’t apply if you:are on a fixed-term energy tariff (or) have chosen a standard variable green energy tariff Ofgem has exempted from the cap. You can call your supplier to check if you are on their default tariff. If you’re not on one, you’re probably already paying a better rate for your energy. But it's still worth checking if you could save more by switching."

Ofgen is also advising customers to remember that predictions of increases can be based on customers with "typical" energy usage who pay by direct debit and householders could end up paying more or less than the predicted rise.

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, said: “Higher energy bills are never welcome and the timing and size of this increase will be particularly difficult for many families still struggling with the impact of the pandemic...We have put tough rules in place to ensure suppliers treat customers who are struggling with bills fairly, and welcome their commitment to reach out to those who most need help this winter. Where help is not forthcoming, we will not hesitate to act."

He added: “I appreciate this is extremely difficult news for many people, my commitment to customers is that Ofgem will continue to do everything we can to ensure they are protected this winter, especially those in vulnerable circumstances.”

.See ofgem.gov.uk for further information.

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For details of the Larder's holiday programme see here or at : https://larder.org.uk/ .

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