Posted: 19 February 2015

'It can get so cold that when the heating isn’t on you can see your breath'

This winter, two million families – with 3.8 million children – are struggling to pay their energy bills. For more than half of these families (1.3 million), at one point or another, this struggle has become too much and they have fallen behind on their bills. Tania, shares how her family is caught in a debt trap.

Tania lives with her four children who are nine, 12, 14 and 16. She sleeps in the living room; her eldest sons have a room each, but the youngest two share. Tania finds it incredibly tough to live on the benefits she gets as a single parent compared to what she received before the breakdown of her long-term relationship. The household income has been cut by £77 a week as a result. Tania has a sister living across the road and a few really good friends, who she borrows money from and relies on for things like accompanying her to and from the hospital. 

It can get so cold that when the heating isn’t on you can see your breath.’ 

Her energy debt problems started when she received an electricity bill for £900, which the electricity company then put up to £1,500 because they charged her to install a pre-payment meter. It took her 18 months for her to clear the debt. Tania is also on a pre-payment meter for her gas. She still owes £865, which she’ll pay off by 2017. Tania feels that her energy company has been really understanding by giving her a couple of months’ leeway and dropping the weekly debt repayment amount from £7 to £4 for a limited time. Tania’s house has no insulation or double glazing, which means that the house is often very cold.

‘Thank God for onesies that’s all I can say'. Another effect of the energy debt has been stress. Tania has also had to stop buying fresh vegetables for her family and buy frozen instead and think about cutting down on their fruit intake. The children were used to having new shoes when they needed them, nutritious food every day and a bit of pocket money to spend, and Tania has found it hard to cut back on these items.

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Almost a million children are living in families in energy debt - and their health is being damaged. These children are three times more likely to have damp or mould in their home and three times as likely to have been ill last winter.

Find out how we can stop debt's damaging effects on children.

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Sign our petition - ask energy companies to show some warmth to children in families facing energy debt.

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