A disabled woman has been left too frightened to charge a feeding machine that helps keep her alive after being hit by a crippling bill by energy bosses.

Julie Hawkins, who must be fed through a tube into her nose, told how ScottishPower reportedly left her penniless after cleaning out her bank account on four occasions over an ongoing cash wrangle. 

The 61-year-old, who suffers from epilepsy and Barrett's disease, is unable to eat solids and relies on the piece of lifeline equipment to provide sustenance - but now fears she can no longer afford to plug it in. 

Julie claims the energy giant has lifted her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for the fourth month in a row, meaning she is unable to use her kettle, limits herself to one hour of television per day and won’t turn on her heating because she’s terrified of the running costs.

Glasgow Times:

However, ScottishPower say the bills are “accurate” and based around her usage.

Julie explained: “I’m living in absolute misery and just can’t see a way forward. I’m scared to make a cup of tea because I just can’t afford the tariff they have put me on.

“My health is getting worse because of this, and I can’t sleep at night as I’m so stressed. I’m unable to eat solid food and need to charge up my machine daily to keep me alive while I also need to keep a sensor plugged in to alert a nurse if I have a seizure.

“I’ve been left with no money in my back account. I just can’t afford the rising cost of energy. I just feel I’m stuck in a desperate situation.”

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Julie says she switched to ScottishPower after one of the firm's salesmen at a stand in a Glasgow shopping centre offered her a deal fixed at £72 a month - but claims her direct debit quickly shot up to £290 when the energy cap was raised.

She then received a letter from the company telling her she is now £1100 in arrears - and was stunned when her disability benefit was taken from her bank account to address the debt.

Julie’s partner Stevie Douglas, from Glasgow, has also tried to contact ScottishPower on her behalf and the couple say they have been shocked by the company's 'heartless' response.

She added: “I thought I’d managed to secure a good deal, but it soon became clear the cost was much higher. I’d never have agreed if I’d known.

"I’ve explained that my sole income is PIP and I just cannot afford to pay the amount I’m being charged. I’ve pleaded and asked if there’s any way to reduce the debt and cost. No one should be left without any money to survive.

“The PIP money I receive is not enough to cover the rising cost of living. I could afford to pay the rate I believed I was signing up to, but even that’s leaving me with next to nothing. My health is very poor and basically I know I’m on borrowed time.

“Right now, I’m not coping and can’t remember the last time I turned on my heating. I’ve cried so much over this and feel totally helpless.

“Energy costs are going up again later this year and I just don’t know what I’m going to do. I've no option but to keep everything that uses power turned off. But my feeding machine is vital to keep me alive, without it I will die."

Glasgow Times:

It is feared that energy bills could soon reach more than £3300 annually, the latest blow to households struggling to deal with the soaring cost of living. Experts say that electricity and gas will rise in October when the energy cap is next adjusted, as wholesale prices continue to soar.

The cap, which is set quarterly by the energy industry regulator Ofgem is currently at an unprecedented level.

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Julie, from Carstairs in South Lanarkshire, says more needs to be done to help those struggling to survive on the breadline. 

She added: “People can’t just be left like this. I never thought I’d be in a situation where I’m terrified to charge my feeding machine or mobility scooter because of the ridiculous cost. There’s a real lack of understanding or financial assistance for people like me. 

"I'm the type of person who worries about being in debt and don’t know how I’ll keep a roof over my head if this continues. Fat cat companies like ScottishPower are getting richer while pushing people like me to the brink."

A spokesman for ScottishPower said: “When Mrs Hawkins became a customer, we based her initial quote on information she provided to us on her energy usage.

“However, the direct debit amount has since been updated based on actual energy usage at the property.

“We have liaised with Citizens Advice regarding her case and our customer service team has shared information on the support available to her.

“We understand her frustration and regret the distress caused, but her bills are accurate and based on her actual energy use.”

ScottishPower says it also provides a wide range of support for vulnerable customers through the Warm Home Discount, a prepayment voucher scheme and the ScottishPower Hardship Fund.