MUM-of-two Jeanette Kirk struggles to sleep now the cost of her pre-pay gas and electric meter has risen 50 per cent in a year.
The 52-year-old from Sheffield, who works two admin jobs and earns £1,300 a month, says she looks at the meter every day with a sense of dread.
She told The Sun on Sunday’s Squeeze Team — our panel of top money-saving experts — that the cost of her weekly energy payments has never been higher.
She often pays £45 a week, compared to £30 a year ago. Jeanette also faces an estimated increase of 51 per cent when the energy price cap rises on April 1.
She said: “When you’re on a meter every decision is about making sure there’s enough on there to heat your home and keep everything going.
“We’ve cut back on food to make sure there’s enough for the electric.”
Jeanette’s husband is on £96 per week statutory sick pay and her children, 19 and 20, both live at home, contributing £80 a month each.
The family have been on a pay-as-you-go meter, provided by Utilita, since 2014, when they moved into their £411-a-month rented Housing Association property.
Jeanette said: “I never want to see the meter get down to zero or go into debt, but it’s not easy. I worry about it.”
She never lets the thermostat go above 15C — 18C is the recommended winter minimum for good health — and in the morning she leaves it on a setting of just six or seven.
She works three days a week, two of them from home, and will put on two extra jumpers and slippers to stay warm. Jeanette received vouchers last year from the charity National Energy Action to help towards heating costs.
She said: “I have a tumble dryer but hardly ever use it. When I do, I take the water it collects to flush the toilet and save on water costs.
“My monthly water bill is £45 and we have short showers. I never boil the kettle or use the microwave without thinking if there’s another way. I spend £70 a week on groceries. Other than essentials I only buy what’s on offer. I use a community hub to pick up basics like bread, fruit and vegetables for free. It’s a big help.”
Jeanette, who buys clothes at charity shops, is tired of the stress of her pre-pay meter but says switching to a tariff can be daunting.
She explains: “Price comparison sites are helpful but there are so many deals it’s hard to know which is most cost-effective and I’m worried about making the wrong choice and ending up unable to pay.
“I’ve never been in debt. But I need to make sense of it all so I don’t fall into any traps.
“Having help from the Squeeze Team is invaluable. There’s a lot of information out there. It’s so helpful to have voices you can trust.”
Squeeze team advice
Tashema Jackson is a consumer champion at energyhelpline.com.
She says: “A pre-pay meter is about 2.5 per cent costlier for the average home.
“Pre-payment meter customers can switch energy supplier, even when in debt to your energy supplier, as long as the debt doesn’t exceed £500 per fuel.
“I think Jeanette should stick with Utilita but she needs to get a standard smart meter.
“These automatically send readings and you can monitor your household’s energy usage, too.
“Jeanette must set up a direct debit so she pays less per unit of energy.
“It is great she is not using her tumble drier excessively because that, along with electric showers, heaters, hair driers and kettles, uses the most energy.”
‘It’s so cold, my kids are becoming ill’
MUM Petrice Rochelle and her two children go without food to heat their house, which is so draughty it is making them ill.
The full-time mum, 30, who is single and lives in a two-bed Victorian house in Lambeth, South East London, said: “We can tell when the meter has run out of money because we will feel the freeze.
“We live on omelettes, beans, sausages and toast but sometimes we even have to sacrifice that and my children have suffered chest infections and respiratory problems because of the cold.”
With £800 income a month from Universal Credit, her gas and electricity cost £170 a month last year, but have risen to £240. She said: “I live in a Housing Association home with single-glazed windows that rattle in the cold wind.
“I can’t remember the last time I was warm.”
Squeeze team advice
Jonathan Rolande from the National Association of Property Buyers, said: “Petrice needs to write a letter, sent recorded delivery, to the Association making a ‘formal complaint’ and ask for its complaints procedure to be sent to her.
You have a right to these repairs under the Decent Homes Standard, which means landlords have to maintain homes they rent out.
She should say she wants the works to be done without further delay.
This should hopefully resolve things. If it doesn’t, she can complain to The Housing Ombudsman and contact her MP.”