A “toxic cocktail” of soaring energy bills, rising inflation and high interest rates will lead to people “freezing or starving” this winter, a charity has warned.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said the cost of living crisis had driven “frightening” levels of demand for guidance on food insecurity and help with fuel charges.
The service said it had recorded a near-10% rise in requests for information about increasing costs across the board, adding views of the online advice page “struggling to pay your energy bills” were up 120% and views of the online advice page “Get help with bills” 119%.
They also revealed one in ten cases presented to them required direction to a food bank and said the issue would only be exacerbated when the energy price cap is raised again in October.
Chief executive Derek Mitchell said: “This crisis is affecting everyone, but some people are especially at risk – our data shows higher demand for advice from council tenants, those out of work and those unable to work. That to me suggests broad support alone will not be enough.
“There needs to be targeted help for the vulnerable.”
He added: “We are seeing these issues before a toxic cocktail this winter of soaring energy bills, growing inflation and higher interest rates. People are hanging on by their finger tips and it’s the summer – how are they expected to cope when the temperature drops and bills rise?”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined calls for nationalising energy firms on Sunday as she warned the increases would put families and households on the brink of “destitution”.
Other pages on the CAS website including “Struggling with living costs” and “Food banks and other crisis help” also saw surges in search traffic in recent months.
Mr Mitchell added: “CAS is here for people during this crisis. We helped 171,000 people last year and a further 2.5 million checked our online advice. We are for everyone regardless of background or circumstance and it’s so important people understand we are here for them with free, confidential and impartial advice. We don’t judge, we just help.
“That help though, needs to be back up by policymakers delivering the kind or urgent and significant policy interventions to help people. Make no mistake, this is a challenge on a scale of the 2008 financial crisis or the 2020 pandemic, and will require solutions to match that.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are very concerned at the hardship households are facing.
“That is why the First Minister has committed to an emergency budget review to assess all opportunities to target additional resources and has convened an urgent summit this week with energy supply companies and consumer groups, including Citizens Advice Scotland.
“We will continue to press the UK Government to use all the levers at its disposal to tackle this emergency on the scale required – these include access to borrowing, providing benefits and support to households, VAT on fuel, taxation of windfall profits and regulation of the energy market.
“In contrast, the Scottish Government has allocated almost £3bn in this financial year that will contribute towards mitigating the increased costs crisis, including the provision of services and financial support not available elsewhere in the UK.
“We continue to support free debt and welfare advice services and have allocated over £12m this year to ensure people are able to access the advice, information and support they need to maximise their incomes.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We know that rising prices caused by global challenges are affecting how far people’s incomes go, which is why we are providing £37bn worth of help for households which is being phased in throughout the year.
“As well as direct payments worth at least £1,200 for eight million of the most vulnerable households, we have taken action so people keep more of what they earn including Universal Credit reforms and a National Insurance cut worth up to £330 a year for the typical employee.
“In addition, everyone will receive a £400 discount on their energy bills over winter and we are also expanding the eligibility of the Warm Home Discount.”