Rising energy debt creates mental health crisis for households

Energy debt is causing mental health anguish for millions, with Brits now facing a summer of misery in an attempt to get back into the black before next winter takes hold, according to new research. [1]  

The research commissioned by the Warm This Winter campaign found that more than a quarter of people (29%) are currently in debt to their energy companies. 

Over one in ten (12%) vulnerable households, such as the elderly and disabled, are now sitting on an energy bill debt of at least £250 each. A fifth (18%) of prepayment meter customers owe upwards of £250 each, with many owing more than £500. 

More than half (54%) of people in energy debt are worried that they won’t be able to save enough over the summer months to pay off the accrued debt, rising to 70% of lower income households. 

Close to a third of respondents (30%) in energy debt are experiencing anxiety as a result and 12% say worrying about it is now making them ill. Over a fifth (22%) of vulnerable householders are spending sleepless nights thinking about it.

To combat this, one third (33%) of people in energy debt are now being forced to sacrifice essentials, including not keeping up with household maintenance (18%) and skipping meals (17%). 

One in ten (12%) say they will have to use other forms of debt, such as a credit card or overdraft to help pay off their energy bills.

The Chancellor’s energy price cap extension has done little to alleviate consumers’ concerns, with 56% of Britons saying they are unhappy or very unhappy with the level of support with energy bills which will be available for energy bills from 1st April.

People affected by energy debt should initially contact their energy firm or Citizens Advice for help. Those concerned for their mental health can contact Mind.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition which is part of the Warm This Winter campaign, commented:

Combined household energy debt will top £2.7bn by the end of June this year and the Government needs to bring together industry and charities to find a solution to the problem.

People will be unable to repay this staggering amount and rather than passing on bad debt to other bill payers, as the energy firms suggest, the Government should use targeted debt relief to wipe out part or all of the energy debt.

This will help the most vulnerable move out of fuel poverty and boost the spending power of hard-pressed consumers.

On Saturday 1st April 2023, a mass lobby of politicians will see people around the country come together to demand change. Over 70 events have been arranged nationwide, including demonstrations and meetings with local MPs to highlight the breadth of public concern about the energy crisis. 

Heidi Chow, executive director of Debt Justice, said: 

Energy debt is having a devastating effect on millions of households who can no longer afford to properly heat their homes, cook meals, or operate medical equipment. 

By ignoring the problem of energy debt the government is needlessly prolonging the anxiety. It is time for them to get their heads out of the sand and tackle this unpayable debt in a fair way. 

In March, campaigners from Warm This Winter delivered a 400,000-strong petition to Number 10 Downing Street calling for the government to take decisive action now to fix our broken energy system, which has left seven million UK households in fuel poverty this winter. 

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, added:

This government has provided temporary relief for some over the winter, but utterly failed to fix the core problem facing the UK, which is the unaffordable price of energy.

Household bills are still double what they were two years ago and high energy costs are making food and other goods more expensive.

It is beyond time that the government took real action to permanently lower energy costs, which means rolling out support to upgrade homes and accelerating the development of cheap renewable energy, both of which have huge public support.

Instead of handing billions of pounds in subsidies to profitable oil and gas companies, this government should be 100% focused on helping ordinary households and businesses.

To find out more and get involved, visit https://www.warmthiswinter.org.uk/mass-lobby.


[1] Researchers interviewed 2,196 people between 20th and 21st March 2023. Results were weighted to be representative of the GB population. GB 18+ population is 51,435,642 (ONS) with around 4.5m experiencing anxiety as a result of energy debt.