Single mum uses candles after her energy bill soars to £760 a month

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A single mum-of-two whose energy bill has soared to £760 a month can’t afford to heat the house and uses candles for light. Nicola Elson, 32, says she has to shell out up to £760 a month for electricity in her two-bed flat.

She has lived in the property for a year and spends most of her salary on her electricity meter. She says she sits with lit candles at night with the heating off in order to save pennies – which means her two children often have to stay elsewhere.

Nicola said: “There were times when I had to choose food or electricity, or I had to borrow from friends and family to get things I no longer had, or even to put electricity. My children’s grandparents have to pay for my children’s shoes, coats, bags, lunches, sometimes clothes because everything I have goes on my meter.

“If I get something extra, then I have to fight somewhere else, ie the meter, the internet bill or not being able to watch TV for an hour in the morning before school.”

Nicola moved in in March 2021 and she claims that at first she had to put around £140 on her Pay As You Go meter each week to complete it. She called her supplier, ScottishPower, to find out why her electricity prices were so high.

She says she was told it was because of her appliances, but at the time she only had a fridge-freezer, TV, kettle and cooker. Nicola also heats her home electrically with plug-in storage heaters.

She brought in an electrician who replaced her meter, but nothing changed and it affects mum Nicola’s relationship with her family. She said: “I have five children but three of them live with their father, they come to stay with me but it has been less because of this problem.

“My two youngest have to be with their dad and siblings because I can’t afford to turn on the heating or the lights at night.”

While receiving help from Universal Credit, Nicola buys £100 worth of food when she pays her rent which she hopes will feed her and her daughters Tillie, four, and Eilidh, three , during the month. She makes sure her meals contain potatoes or chips so her daughters can stay full, and she makes sure the children get a hot meal for lunch while they’re in nursery.

She finds it difficult to buy anything more after paying for her electricity and sometimes asks her friends and family to help her with her other bills or her food. Housekeeper Nicola said: “Sometimes I don’t have breakfast or lunch so the girls can have it.

“I had to give up so many things, I gave up on my other kids staying over the weekend, I had to give up family outings. I can’t do nice things with them or give them what a mother should be, because all my time is spent calling ScottishPower and all my money goes on my meter.

“I sit with candles lit at night and no heating on. I do a morning shift which I had to take to help pay for my electricity in addition to my evening shift.”

She has been on medication for anxiety and depression since January, which she says is due to having to say goodbye to her children at the end of the day as they cannot stay. I constantly worry about how I’m going to put money on the meter, put food on the table or even get my kids to stay,” Nicola said.

“Everything I earn goes into the meter – I get paid £860 for my job as a cleaner at two schools.”

She pays the same for electricity in summer and winter, and the figure has never increased over time to £190 a week, which is more than her rent of £475 a month. She turns off everything at the outlets and asks her friends and family to help her with the laundry because she doesn’t use her washing machine or dryer.

The mum-of-five said: ‘I use my cooker maybe four times a month on Saturdays to batch cook everything to put in the microwave on weekdays. I’m at their grandparents’ for dinner three times a week and it’s also where I do most of my laundry, bathe my kids and bring them home when it’s bedtime.

“I currently have a winter duvet on my bed and three blankets, and my daughters have two blankets and a duvet on their beds.”

In May, Nicola was offered a £40 recharge code to help with her electricity needs, which she thought she would not have to pay back. She called ScottishPower for a new code every two days until December when she was told they could not supply any more as they ‘don’t like putting our customers in debt’.

She then realized she had to pay back the top-ups, and since then her meter has oscillated between telling her she was £2,000 in debt and £300 in credit. She doesn’t know if her rate has since been adjusted to help her gradually pay down her debt.

Desperate, Nicola wants to share her experience to urge power companies to do something to help families like hers.

She said: ‘It’s unfair and upsetting. I just want things to change so that companies can’t do this to people.

A spokesperson for ScottishPower said: ‘We have actively investigated the issues raised by Ms Elson which are complex and involve a number of factors including whether the meter she had installed is the best for her type of property and its energy consumption, the significant level of top-ups provided to the account – which must be refunded – and resolve outstanding billing issues.

“Ms Elson has now elected to pursue the matter with the Energy Ombudsman rather than the Supplementary Aid Unit, therefore we will continue to do what we can to support the Ombudsman’s investigation, including including by arranging a client liaison visit, but we will only be able to reach a resolution once the due process of the ombudsman has been completed.

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