Disabilities campaigners lead challenge to energy bill meters

Close-up photo from a vigil in January 2017 at Kentish Town Jobcentre in memory of Lawrence Bond.  A white woman wheelchair user holds a placard with a photo of Lawrence Bond.  Behind her, a woman of colour holds a placard in memory of Lillian Oluk and her baby daughter who starved to death. Behind them various people on the vigil, some holding banners and placards.

Photo: Vigil in memory of Lawrence Bond, Kentish Town Jobcentre, January 2017

Shared from Camden New Journal with thanks — our piece in their Disability History Month special edition:

WinVisible helps people with support and information

Thursday, 29th December 2022 — By Frankie Lister-Fell

FOR 38 years a Kentish-Town based disabilities group has been a powerful voice for the needs of disabled women.

It has set legal precedents in Camden, organised a monthly picket outside the Family Court in Holborn and lobbied policy makers.

And this year WinVisible’s focus has turned to how prepayment energy meters disproportionally affect disabled people.

Speaking to the New Journal for a special UK Disability History Month feature, Claire Glasman, founder and coordinator of WinVisible, said: “A lot of people don’t have someone to go to the shop for them to put money on a card or can’t leave home because they’re ill. You have to be able to manage the meter.

“You can’t be forced onto it. We’ve been sharing information on how disabled people can resist being forced onto prepaid meters.”

WinVisible is based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town and Ms Glasman said it did a mixture of one-to-one help and sharing self-help information, as well as campaigning for improvements.

Energy companies are pressuring people who are missing payments on their bills to move to prepaid meters, which charge a slightly higher rate and require people to be physically able to top them up.

Group member Nicole Als, a wheelchair user and mother who lives in West Hampstead, criticised the push for meters and the illusion of priority lists.

She has a clotting disorder, fourth grade osteoporosis in her hips and sickle cell disease, which she says is severely impacted by a change in temperature.

“Living on a limited amount of money, the impact is how long can I keep the heating on? Which room should I be in?” she said. “I’ve got a smart prepaid meter, and I get charged £1.24 a day for its existence. “I’m on a priority list but I believe a lot of the time that it’s just lip service because it hasn’t made an inch of difference to my life in terms of getting extra support as a vulnerable person.”

Ms Als added: “It seems quite biased that because you’re on a lower income you can’t keep yourself as healthy. “As a disabled mother because I need to keep up my energy to look after my daughter and currently we’re both sick, but with my chronic conditions as well as my physical disabilities I still have to be a mother 24 hours a day.”

Energy regulator Ofgem sent a letter to energy suppliers in November stating that “prepayment meters should only be used where it is safe and reasonably practicable” and vulnerability assessments must be carried out first.

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