Mum of disabled teen - whose £17K energy bill was paid by Kate Winslet - calls for greater government support
Carolynne Hunter urged Jeremy Hunt to include help for families who have high energy bills to care for their disabled children in the Autumn Statement.
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In March 2022, Carolynne Hunter received a letter that would change her life. A bill from Scottish Power informed her that her energy bill was going up to £855-a-month - more than £10,000-a-year.
Carolynne uses a lot of electricity to care for her 13-year-old daughter Freya, who has severe complex needs and disabilities. She loves listening to the birds and her pet dogs scampering around, but her health conditions require 24-hour care with oxygen running all the time. “It’s like a little intensive care unit,” Carolynne explained.
However, things were only going to get worse. As the energy price cap increased, Carolynne was told that her annual energy bill was going to go up to £17,000 in January 2023. Her immediate thought was Freya might have to go into care: “I got the shock of my life. It was absolutely terrifying.”
The 50-year-old kept talking about her plight and the plight of other families in similar situations, and eventually her and Freya got some good news - Kate Winslet had offered to pay her entire energy bill.
“When I found out I cried,” Carolynne told NationalWorld. “It was a sense of relief because I knew that Freya was going to be OK. I thought I might lose Freya, nobody will ever look after her or love her the way that I do. Kate was lovely, we’ve kept in touch.”
As part of this campaign, Carolynne, 50, submitted a question to then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and her case was raised by MPs in Westminster. However, she still says there’s not enough support and wants the government to provide social tariffs for families like hers, help to make their homes more energy efficient and reduce any debt that’s been built up over the last two years.
Through GoFundMe, Carolynne, of Clackmannanshire has started raising money for Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS), which provides support for babies, children and young people up to 21 with life-shortening conditions. She also hopes the fundraiser will start a discussion to improve the level of support from the government.
“This fundraiser will hopefully raise enough money to help all these families over Christmas and over the winter, and also it will give me a chance to start talking about it again,” Carolynne said.
“Should the government rely on the good will of other people? They should be sorting this out. People are so kind and generous, but this is the government’s responsibility. They’re not doing anything - they’re just sitting back and allowing this to happen.”
She estimates that most families in her position will have bills of around £7,000-a-year at the moment. And Carolynne wants Jeremy Hunt and Rishi Sunak to make an announcement in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday.
“I’m hoping that there will be some sort of announcement that there will be appropriate support in similar situations to us, families who are hugely vulnerable and have higher than average energy bills,” she said.
“In the future there shouldn’t be this unstable situation for families who are really struggling anyway with what they have to do for the person they love and care for.”
A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “We recognise the cost-of-living challenges families are facing and spent £40 billion paying around half a typical household’s energy bill last winter.
“Energy prices are falling and our Energy Price Guarantee remains in place to protect people until April next year.
“We’re also continuing to support the most vulnerable, with three million households expected to benefit from the £150 Warm Home Discount, £900 for those on means-tested benefits, and an extra £150 for disabled people.”
Scottish Energy Minister Gillian Martin said: “No parent should ever have to worry about how they will afford essential care for their children, and I would like to express my sympathies to Carolynne Hunter and her family.
“The Scottish Government has done and continues to do everything within our power to support the many thousands of households who continue to struggle with their energy bills.
“We trebled our Fuel Insecurity Fund to £30 million this year, and the bulk of this is set to be distributed throughout autumn and winter so that those who are most at risk of self-rationing or self-disconnecting get tangible help when they need it most.
“Our Child Winter Heating Payment provides families of severely disabled children and young people with financial support, while Scotland’s Child Disability Payment helps cover the extra costs of caring for a disabled or terminally ill child or young person.”
Sadly for Carolynne, Freya is back in hospital fighting several viruses and a chest infection. “Everyday you never know what’s going to happen to Freya, you never know how she’s going to be,” she said.
“Last Thursday night she ended up having breathing difficulties and ended up being rushed to hospital. She’s still in hospital - she’s fighting three viruses and a chest infection.”
However in better times, Freya loves listening to the birds, their pet dogs and Carolynne’s grandchildren running around the house. Carolynne said: “When she’s awake Freya is the happiest wee girl ever. She listens to me a lot and she laughs and she giggles away when I’m talking about the energy crisis and what the government haven’t done. She’s not able to talk, but she does communicate in her own way - she’ll smile and flutter her eyes.”
To help people like Freya, you can donate to Carolynne’s GoFundMe page here. All the money goes to Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS).