People unable to clear energy debts as calls for Help to Repay scheme increase

One in four people with energy debts (24%) are currently unable to repay, according to new research commissioned by National Debtline.

The debt advice service is leading a coalition of 13 organisations calling on the Chancellor to introduce a ‘Help To Repay’ scheme in the Autumn Statement.

The findings, based on UK-wide research commissioned from Opinium, show that an estimated 6.4 million UK adults (12%) are behind on their energy bills heading into this winter – an increase of more than 824,000 since April.

More than one in five people (22%) say they have cut back on food and other essentials in order to keep up with energy bills (an estimated 11.6 million people). Two thirds (66%) say they will reduce how much they use the heating this winter.

Meanwhile millions of people have sold personal possessions (9%, 4.7 million), used their overdraft (7%, 4 million) and turned to high-cost credit (4%) in an effort to stay on top of rising energy costs.

The research also reveals the difficulties facing people falling behind in resolving their situation. Of those currently behind with their energy bill, 21% said their supplier had not accepted an affordable offer of repayment – and 18% had been unable to get through to their supplier when they tried to contact them to discuss the debt.

One in four (24%) say they are regularly losing sleep worrying about their energy debt.

The findings come as energy debt hit its highest-ever level of £2.6 billion, according to the energy regulator Ofgem.

A coalition of 13 organisations led by National Debtline and including National Energy Action, Scope and the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, have written to the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, urging him to introduce a ‘Help to Repay’ scheme to provide repayment matching and debt relief for unaffordable arrears.

Separate National Debtline research shows that almost three quarters of UK adults (73%) think people who have fallen into energy debt due to high prices should be given help to reduce what they owe.

David Cheadle, acting chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity
that runs National Debtline, said:
“High energy costs have left millions trapped in energy debt – and these
households urgently need support this winter. The Government now has only a limited window of opportunity to act, which is why we are calling on the Chancellor to use the Autumn Statement to step in with the help people need.

“Our Help to Repay proposal would help bring down the record £2.6 billion energy debt in the market – and offer a lifeline to people whose incomes simply will not stretch to pay off their energy arrears. It would also have the support of the general public – with 73% backing this kind of government help.

“National Debtline advisers hear every day of the toll that energy debts are taking on people’s lives and health, and the urgency of the situation cannot be underestimated. Crucially, no one needs to go through this alone. I would urge anyone struggling to cope with their energy bills to seek free, independent debt advice as soon as possible.”

Matt Copeland, head of policy and public affairs at National Energy Action, said:
“Debt levels in the energy market are at an all-time high after years of unaffordable prices. And monthly energy bills for many will be higher this winter than the last. The impact that this has on low-income households is
profound. One-third of British adults say they will struggle to pay their energy bills this winter.

Ofgem’s proposal to raise the price cap as a way of dealing with the increased debt only exacerbates the problem. Failure to provide support to reduce energy bills and energy debt would be catastrophic, leaving millions of households unable to stay warm and healthy this winter.

“A ‘Help to Repay’ scheme would accelerate debt payments, ease the burden on household budgets, and help create a more sustainable energy market.”

James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, said:
“Winter hasn’t hit yet and already Scope’s energy helpline is being inundated with calls from disabled people facing eye-watering amounts of debt. On average, our customers have almost £1,800 worth of energy debt – more than double this time last year. That’s despite cutting back everything they can.

“Life costs a lot more for disabled people, who need more energy to power wheelchairs and breathing equipment, or have the heating on more for their health. The government must defuse this debt timebomb, bring in emergency support for this winter, and keep its promise to consider an energy social tariff which would end sky-high bills for disabled people.”

This month Ofgem announced plans to increase energy bills by £17 per household to reduce the risk of energy firms going bust or leaving the market – a decision that Fiona Waters a spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign called  “appalling.” Waters added:

“The government needs to put the public’s need for an affordable energy supply ahead of the demands of energy giants.”

Commons Committee asked to take urgent evidence on forced PPMs

The House of Commons Energy Security Committee has been asked by campaigners to hold an urgent evidence session on the prepayment meters scandal.

Last week Scottish Power was granted 124 warrants by Berkshire Magistrates Court to forcibly enter people’s homes to force them onto prepayment meters (PPMs). 

According to media reports, the magistrate granted all 124 warrants after examining just 20 of them in detail.

One of these warrants was granted against a property in Grimsby, almost 200 miles away.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has now written to the Committee outlining more than ten serious concerns about this decision and requesting its help in understanding the circumstances around the warrants. 

The group has asked the Committee to take evidence within the next 28 days from Scottish Power, Richburns Ltd (debt collection agency), His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and Ofgem.

The forced PPMs scandal rocked the energy industry after investigations by the i paper and The Times revealed the extent energy firms were using the courts to gain warrants to people’s homes to force vulnerable people onto PPMs. 

Expert reports highlight the health dangers potentially caused by people’s PPMs switching off and leaving them in cold damp homes.

These warrants were granted despite a ban on the forced transfer of homes onto prepayment meters still being in place. 

Campaigners have previously written to Ministers to call for a Help To Repay scheme to be introduced to remove the need for forced prepayment meter transfers.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“It is totally inappropriate for energy firms to be seeking to force their way into people’s homes to push them onto dangerous prepayment meters in this way. This strategy leaves potentially vulnerable customers at risk of disconnection and going without energy.

“Instead, we need Government and industry to agree to a Help To Repay scheme which will help bring down the astronomical levels of energy debt and help households struggling with the cost of living crisis to get back on an even keel.”

National Pensioners Convention General Secretary Jan Shortt said: 

“It is interesting that Scottish Power had warrants passed before 8 November, when Ofgem’s mandatory regulations covering energy providers are due to come into force.

“We oppose magistrates signing warrants for forced entry in bulk. Magistrates have the overriding power when it comes to human rights, and we expect that they will take genuine steps to ensure that every application for a warrant to force entry to fit a prepayment meter will be vigorously scrutinised to ensure adherence to the Ofgem Code of Practice.  

“We recognise this will cause delays, but the alternative is to breach individual human rights and cause distress to those struggling with paying bills.

“We would prefer to see an end to the use of prepayment meters with an agreed strategy to transfer those customers who do not want them back to a payment scheme that enables them to be debt free.”

Frazer Scott, CEO, Energy Action Scotland commented:

“People are struggling with unaffordable energy costs and spiralling debt. This has reached record levels. Some of the most vulnerable in society have not seen the right levels of support to ensure that their health and wellbeing is protected. 

“The forced movement of people from credit to prepayment places an unacceptable level of risk to the lives of people. Government, regulator, suppliers and our courts are failing to provide meaningful protection. 

“We are dismayed that action has been taken by suppliers and the courts ahead of the introduction of changes to regulations which should ensure that no vulnerable person has to endure being subject to a forced installation.” 

Warm This Winter spokesperson, Fiona Waters said: 

“It’s appalling that Scottish Power have been granted warrants to force their way into over a hundred homes, install prepayment meters and leave vulnerable people with just £30 credit. Prepayment meter users often have to clear debt before they can top them up. We hope Ofgem and the Energy Security Committee will exert all their authority to stop this and not condemn these customers to living without any heating or lighting.”

Jonathan Bean of Fuel Poverty Action added: 

“Scottish Powers’ plan to break into homes, and risk leaving people unable to stay warm this winter, has been exposed. The courts are failing to properly assess most cases, and Ofgem is guilty of wishful thinking. Government must act now to end this inhumane and dangerous practice.”

The full letter is available to read as a pdf.

Consumers need help to repay energy debt, not higher bills

Proposals to increase energy bills further in response to surging levels of household energy debt have been criticised by campaigners.

While energy suppliers made more than £2bn in profits in the first half of 2023 alone, new figures from Ofgem found energy debt reached a record £2.6 billion due to soaring wholesale prices and cost-of-living pressures on households.

A one-off increase to customers’ energy bills of up to £17 a year is now being considered by Ofgem, which the regulator argues will protect firms from customers running up large debts.

But charities and campaigners have called for the introduction of a “Help To Repay” scheme instead of passing the cost of debt onto all households.

The coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“Households are struggling under the huge weight of energy debt – which has been caused through no fault of their own, but by record energy bills.

“All this time, energy firms have continued to profit from the misery of people racking up debt and living in cold damp homes.

“Rather than pass on more increases to energy bills, the Government needs to work with energy firms to introduce a ‘help to repay’ scheme to help get Britain’s households back onto an even keel.

“Given that the Government is due to hand Norwegian oil giant Equinor a massive tax break for the controversial Rosebank fossil fuel field, there’s an obvious source of money for this support plan.”

Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action, said: 

“This is the highest level of energy debt we have seen, it is growing quickly and concentrated in the poorest households.”

In June, a range of organisations including the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, Money Advice Trust, StepChange Debt Charity, Scope and National Energy Action wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero [pdf] with proposals to set up a ‘Help To Repay’ repayment-matching scheme.

David Cheadle, acting chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, told Press Association: 

“With energy debt at a record high, now is the worst possible time to increase bills further, as Ofgem is proposing.

“Instead, the Government must step in and act now to help households facing unaffordable debt repayments by introducing a Help to Repay scheme to offer payment matching and write-off.

“Doing so would help tackle the record levels of energy debt we are now seeing, without the need to increase energy bills for all customers.”

Fiona Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign, said: 

“The fact Ofgem is considering a £17 additional bill on all households is appalling. They say it’s to cover £2.6 billion of energy debt, but that enormous debt just proves ordinary people cannot keep footing the bill for our broken energy system. 

“The government needs to put the public’s need for an affordable energy supply ahead of the demands of energy giants. 

“Why not use the billions that its giving in tax breaks to Norwegian oil giant Equinor for the Rosebank oil field, which will do nothing to lower fuel costs, to write off this debt that people have through no fault of their own. ”

Surge in energy disconnections and debt

New figures from Ofgem have revealed that the number of customers disconnecting from the grid have surged – along with levels of energy debt.

The data shows that in quarter 1 2023, people disconnected from their energy supply more than 5 million times. Almost 1.2m customers were affected with over 800,000 bill-payers disconnecting for more than three hours.

Meanwhile, official energy debt levels have also surged.

The average household energy debt for homes not on a payment plan, is £1,214 on electricity bills and £965 on gas bills. Figures from the Money Advice Trust suggest that this “bad debt” is just the tip of the iceberg.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:
“This is exactly what we have been fearing. As Bank of England figures show, people have burned through savings just to keep up with essentials and the cost of living crisis continues. Meanwhile average energy debt is surging to unprecedented levels

“It’s clear that households are just unable to cope.

“The majority of this debt is caused by the record high energy prices which have caused misery for millions, but generated excess profits for the firms involved in Britain’s broken energy system.

“Rather than end the Windfall Tax early, as the Government plans to do, it should instead look at how this could be used to help get those people suffering back on an even keel.

“Calls to introduce a Help to Repay debt matching scheme are backed by a range of charities. These plans would help reduce levels of fuel poverty as well as helping wider household finances.”

The figures come as the Ofgem Price Cap brings the average annual energy bill to customers down to around £2,074 from 1 July 2023. The Price Cap affects 29 million customers on standard variable tariffs (SVTs), including around 4 million customers on prepayment meters (PPMs).

Despite a slight reduction in bills from 1 July 2023, these customers will have energy bills that are double what they were in 2020 and 60% above what they were before the invasion of Ukraine.

This means that customers will continue to pay similar amounts for their energy as last winter, but with people having less ability to pay as the cost of living crisis continues.

Call for Help To Repay scheme as energy bills debt soars

An estimated 5.5 million UK adults are now in energy bills debt, according to new research from the Money Advice Trust.

The latest findings confirm the heavy toll that high energy bills are taking on household finances with 2.1 million more people in energy arrears in April 2023 than in March last year and millions struggling to access help from their energy suppliers.

The figures are also more than previous data from the Warm This Winter campaign suggested earlier this year.

In the wake of the research, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition has joined forces with Money Advice Trust, StepChange Debt Charity, Warm This Winter and other organisations to ask the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero to set up a ‘Help To Repay’ repayment-matching scheme.

Campaigners believe this will provide a safe route out of debt for struggling households.

The Money Advice Trust research finds that millions more households were struggling with their energy costs in April than in March 2022, with support from energy suppliers – which is vital to help them repay arrears – proving difficult to access.

While support is available from energy providers for people who are struggling, an estimated 3.9 million people (7 percent) said they have not been able to access help for their bills after contacting their suppliers for support.

A further 3.2 million people (6 percent) reported not being able to get through and contact their supplier for help when they had tried to do so.

Joanna Elson CBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said:
“Energy bills might finally be falling – but for millions of households, the effects of this cost of living crisis are already baked in. With more people falling behind on energy and other essential bills and millions facing unaffordable demands for repayment, we need urgent action to make sure everyone has access to a safe route out of debt.

“The government has already provided substantial support to help with the cost of living – but no-one should underestimate the scale of this continued crisis.

“The Help To Repay payment-matching scheme we are proposing will help those who otherwise will simply not be able to dig themselves out of the energy arrears that this crisis has created. And for those most in need, the government should introduce an Essentials Guarantee to link the rate of Universal Credit to cover the cost of essential goods like food and energy.”

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“Energy debt is surging to unprecedented levels and it’s clear that households are just unable to cope.

“The majority of this new debt is caused by the record high energy prices which have caused misery for millions, but generated excess profits for the firms involved in Britain’s broken energy system.

“Rather than end the Windfall Tax early, as the Government plans to do, it should instead look at how this could be used to help get those people suffering back on an even keel.

“Not only would this help reduce levels of fuel poverty now and into next winter, but it will also help wider household finances, ensuring people no longer have to cut back on essentials.”

Research by the University of Bristol has found only 26% of households have not had to take measures to cut back on spending and the majority of people are now taking steps to cut costs in one or more areas.

A third (35%) were not able to afford a healthy balanced diet at least once in the past month and one in five of those in serious financial difficulties had not eaten for a whole day at least three times during the last month.

Free, expert advice is available from charity-run services like National Debtline.

Help To Repay logo

Full detail of the Help To Repay proposal submitted to the Government can be read online:

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


[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.