Chris Lees, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
How the energy crisis is impacting people with mental health problems
30 March 2022
How do you feel when looking at your energy bills? Frustrated? Anxious? Confused? Over the last year, most of us will have been concerned by the news of energy firms going bust and energy bills rising. And on 1 April, the energy price cap is rising by a massive 54%. People on a standard variable tariff (the tariff you move onto after your fixed tariff ends) will be paying on average £1,971 a year for their energy. This is an average for someone paying by direct debit, meaning households that use more energy than average will pay more. Those on prepayment meters or who pay as their bill comes in will see prices rise higher.
Given these unprecedented changes, we asked our Research Community, a group of thousands of people with lived experience of mental health problems, about their experiences of the energy crisis. Our survey revealed that many people are struggling with rising bills and are worried about the future. We also heard that suppliers aren’t doing enough to help people through the crisis.
We surveyed 298 members of our Research Community at the end of January, when people were paying more to heat their homes during the winter. We found that three quarters (74%) of respondents had seen their bills increase and this was already having an impact. Four in five (81%) had cut back on their energy use as a result, over half (53%) had cut back on other essential spending and one in five (20%) had borrowed money to pay bills. People with mental health problems are more likely to be on lower incomes and are nearly four times as likely to be behind on their energy bills, so the rise in bills will likely be hitting many hard.
“The rise has affected me in ways that I am embarrassed to admit. It has resulted in me not using my heating system or showering as often. The cooker has been about the only heat I have used when preparing the one meal I am allowing myself because I worry my direct debit will have to increase again.” Expert by experience
But, as with a lot of our research, we found that rising bills are not just having a financial impact. They’re also negatively affecting people’s mental health. Of those who had seen their bills increase, nine in ten (89%) felt stressed or anxious and two thirds (66%) felt depressed as a result. Research Community members spoke about facing difficult decisions – such as choosing between heating their homes and paying for food.
“I am dreading the next increase which could double my energy bills. I was already in mental health crisis and this has worsened my condition” Expert by experience
Support from suppliers
We also asked Research Community members about whether they’d heard from their supplier during the crisis. Only a third (34%) of respondents had received communications from their supplier. There was a mixture of experiences; with some people receiving clear and reassuring communications, but others just being told their bills were increasing without any offer of assistance.
Providers can offer customers support to help them pay their bills, such as agreeing a payment plan, but only one in five (19%) respondents are aware of the help energy providers can give. To access this help, customers often have to get in touch with their supplier; however, only 14% of respondents had done so. Again respondents had a range of experiences with some being well supported and others finding it difficult to get in touch or not being given any assistance. Providers can play an important role in reassuring customers during these difficult times and making sure they can access the right support for their needs, so it’s important they get this right.
“I have tried and tried to speak to someone at [energy company] to ask why my usage has gone up so disproportionately and to have my meter checked but without success. I’ve even been cut off and sent back to the initial answering message.” Expert by experience
With the war in Ukraine, experts have suggested that energy bills will likely increase again in October this year. This potential rise on top of the April increase will push many people into financial difficulty; nine in ten (90%) respondents were worried about being able to afford energy bills over the next year. The government has put forward financial support for people over the next year to help pay their bills but this won’t be enough to help those already choosing between heating and eating. What’s clear from speaking to the Research Community is that the rise in bills is already having a significant impact on people’s finances and mental health.
If you work for an energy supplier and want to find out more about how you support customers with mental health problems through the energy crisis, you can find more information here.
If you are in need of support for your finances or mental health, you can find some helpful links here.