Ministers have been asked to intervene after it emerged that more than a third of vouchers intended to ease the energy bills of people using prepaid meters have not been redeemed.
Data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Tuesday showed that 34% of vouchers have not been redeemed since the program launched in October.
The energy bill assistance scheme has been put in place to mitigate the blow of rising bills this winter. The energy price guarantee lowers the bills of people using direct debits, while the voucher system has been designed to help those using prepayment meters.
However, over 1.3 million vouchers remain unredeemed and many are lost, delayed or unclaimed. The Guardian revealed in early December that up to half a million of the UK’s most vulnerable families have been left without government support since October.
In total, less than 2.7 million of the more than 4 million time-limited vouchers for £66 sent to households with traditional prepaid meters have been claimed.
Consumer champion Martin Lewis has joined Which?, Age UK, Citizens Advice and National Energy Action in writing to Business Secretary Grant Shapps to express concern over the low reimbursement rate.
“It cannot be right that millions of pounds of government aid go unclaimed while low-income and vulnerable groups are at risk,” they wrote in an open letter published on Tuesday.
They called on the government to publish reimbursement rates regularly, including the mode of delivery; investigate why reimbursement rates are low; publicize the program and consider adapting it when problems are identified.
“We understand that this is a complex new program that was implemented quickly during a difficult time. Nonetheless, we believe it is your responsibility, alongside the government, to do everything in your power to ensure that this vital support gets to the people as quickly as possible,” they wrote.
Earlier Tuesday, Shapps accused some energy providers of not answering phones to customers.
“What concerns me is this gap between the good ones being sent and the people finding the good one,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
Dhara Vyas, deputy chief executive of industry body Energy UK, said: “Suppliers are doing everything they can to ensure the right ones get to customers and will make repeated attempts using channels – such as text, l e-mail, telephone or post – and contact details. at their disposal. »
Concerns over the vouchers came amid calls from MPs for a ban on forced installations of prepayment meters, over fears that the elderly and vulnerable could effectively be cut off from heating and electricity.
Prepayment meters are scrutinized as thousands of warrants authorizing forced installations are issued.
On Monday, the government extended existing support to allow people living in care homes and caravan parks to receive £400 to help pay their fuel bills. Around 900,000 households in England, Scotland and Wales without a direct relationship with an energy supplier could apply online for the £400.