Household energy debt at 'all-time high' ahead of expected bill hike
It comes as energy bills are set to hit £4,200 in January, according to a new forecast
Households already owe £1.3 billion to their energy suppliers two months before bills are set to soar by more than 80 percent.
The overall debt bill is already three times higher than it was a year ago, experts at Uswitch said on Wednesday, and it seems likely it will grow further over the winter.
Six million homes across the UK owe an average of £206 to their energy provider, according to a survey from the company. In April the same average debt was £188.
Normally at this time of year people have built up a small war chest to help even out the increased bills during the winter months.
Regulator Ofgem is expected to hike the price cap on energy bills to £3,582 per year for the average household in Great Britain from the beginning of October, according to a new forecast.
Analysts at Cornwall Insight predicted further rises, to £4,266 in January and then £4,427 from the start of April.
“Energy debt has hit an all-time high with the worst possible timing, turning this winter’s energy price hike into a deeply precarious situation for many households,” said Justina Miltienyte, head of policy at Uswitch.
“This is an alarming situation, as summer is traditionally a time when households are using less power for heating, which helps bill payers to build up energy credit ahead of the winter.”
The survey showed that eight million households have no credit balances, meaning they have no cushion against the winter misery.
Nearly one in five people (18 percent) said they are worried about their supplier forcing them to take a prepayment meter if they fall behind on bills, although 38 percent said they did not know their supplier could do this.
“If you are behind on your bill payments, or your energy account is going into debt, speak to your provider as soon as possible,” Ms Miltienyte said.
“They should be able to help you find a solution, such as working out a more affordable payment plan. You may also find you are eligible for additional support such as hardship funds and other energy help schemes.
“The Government also needs to take energy debt seriously ahead of the winter – and a greater support package for vulnerable households needs to be agreed as a priority.”
There are several ways for customers to save on bills. One of the simplest is to turn down the flow temperature on your condensing combi boiler.
Doing this will allow the boiler to run more efficiently and could save around £200 off an average energy bill.
Another easy saving is to turn off the pre-heat mode on the boiler, which could mean hot water taps taking longer to heat up, but could save hundreds of pounds a year.
Experts also advise households to check if they are eligible for extra support.