Energy debt soars 57% in 12 months

Households’ combined energy debt has soared again in figures released by Ofgem.

The total energy debt (which is 91 days or more overdue) had risen to £3.3bn by end Q1 2024.

The figure is up from £3.1bn at end Q4 2023 and up 57% (from £2.2bn) at the same point in 2023.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition previously revealed that one in five (18%) of households in energy debt are turning to illegal money lenders to pay for their bills and everyday essentials.

For many in energy debt, energy firms will suggest moving to a prepayment meter (PPM), which enables customers to pay off their debt every time they top up their meter.

But Warm This Winter research indicates that the suffering of households in debt on prepayment meters is even worse than for those on direct debit. The numbers turning to illegal money lending are also significantly higher for PPM customers (36% PPM / 13% DD).

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“Millions of households have fallen into energy debt due to the record high prices.

“The next Government must now make tackling energy debt a priority. It should do this by introducing a universal, consistent, nationwide, debt matching programme. This could be funded in part by the £1.3bn customers are paying through bills for energy debt costs this year.

“The average household has had to find £2,500 in the last few years just to keep their energy usage where it was. When combined with the ongoing cost of living crisis, this is a figure well beyond people’s means and it is no wonder that people are now getting deeper into debt.

“While the energy industry has pocketed the profits, struggling families have been abandoned with many turning to illegal money lenders.”

Experts have also recommended a ban on energy firms from selling on debt to debt collectors, better regulation of energy debt with energy debt and debt collection agencies used by energy firms to be subject to Financial Conduct Authority rules and more training for energy firms’ staff in recognising illegal money lending.

Steve Vaid, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline said:

“The fall in the Price Cap will alleviate some of the pressure many households are under, but many more will continue to struggle as energy bills remain high.

“As millions of people worry about keeping up with their energy payments, arrears levels have continued to increase and many have been left with unaffordable debts as a result.

“What we need to see from the next Government is urgent action through a Help to Repay scheme to help people trapped in energy debt access a safe route out.

“Anyone struggling with their energy bills, or worried about their finances, should contact National Debtline as soon as possible – our advisers are here to help.”