Price cap warning as Ofgem set summer bills

Millions of domestic energy customers will see their energy bills stay at near record highs.

The latest Ofgem Price Cap announcement has set new prices for what consumers will pay for energy from 1 July 2023, with the average household seeing an energy bill of £2,074. If customers use more than the average consumption, they will still pay more than this figure as the cap limits the unit cost, not the total bill. 

Up until as recently as March, the average household energy bill stood at £2,100 due to the impact of Government support programmes. Last summer, average bills were £1,971 meaning energy will be 5.23% more expensive in summer 2023.

Predictions are that future price caps will set average energy bills at £1,976 from 1 October and rising back to £2,045 from 1 January 2024.

According to End Fuel Poverty Coalition records, this means that energy bills will be roughly: 

  • DOUBLE what they were in 2020.
  • 60% ABOVE what they were before the invasion of Ukraine.
  • At a similar level to last winter, but with people having less ability to pay as the crisis continues.

Anne Vivian-Smith, a disabled former community worker from Nottingham, said:

“Last winter I couldn’t keep myself warm as energy bills soared. To learn that I might have to face the same level of energy bills again is a frightening prospect. Other bills have gone up and the cost of living has soared – we’re less able to pay our bills now than we were last winter.”

Junnie Braithwaite is 56 and lives in northeast London. Her socially rented apartment is split over two floors, and she needs to use a stairlift because of fibromyalgia and arthritis. She said: 

“It’s give with the one hand and take with the other, I might get a few quid off my energy bill but that’s swallowed up by food prices going through the roof. I still don’t have peace of mind and I am already dreading next winter when my energy bills will go up again.”

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

The sting in the tail to this announcement is that customers are still going to be paying roughly the same for their energy as last winter. 

“And after months of inflation and the wider cost of living crisis, people are even less able to afford these high energy bills.

“The government needs to use the summer to fix Britain’s broken energy system, because for millions of people the energy bills crisis is far from over. This means ramping up energy efficiency programmes, helping the public with energy debt and reforming energy pricing arrangements so people don’t suffer again this winter.”

Research for the Warm This Winter campaign found that over 9 million adults lived in cold damp homes in winter 2022/23 and official figures showed cases of hypothermia surged by 36%

Tessa Khan, Director of Uplift which is part of the Warm This Winter campaign, commented:

“Britain’s broken energy system is set to cause another winter of misery, with fuel poverty affecting many of the most vulnerable. But as people continue to struggle through the energy bills crisis, the energy producers will continue to reap record profits.”

Fixed term deals which may now come onto the market may not be the solution, with recent figures from Future Energy Associates show that these may boost energy firms’ profits and be more expensive to consumers than the standard variable tariff.

The Government has announced funding to help with the cost of living, but it will not help around 1.7 million households in fuel poverty and represents a real-terms cut in support compared to last year.

Other inequalities in the energy market will remain with customers paying by standard credit (i.e. paying by cash, cheque or bank transfer) hit with a significant price premium.

Meanwhile some regions, such as Merseyside and North Wales will pay substantially more than others, such as those in the East Midlands.

Bethan Sayed from Climate Cymru said:

“The regional inequalities are deeply unfair, with people in North Wales paying substantially more than other parts of the UK for their energy. This is compounded by people living in old, leaky homes or off grid, and those on prepayment meters getting less energy for their money. This needs to change.”

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action added:

“As people sink deeper into debt, basics like washing your clothes are becoming unaffordable luxuries for many. We need long-term solutions to fix Britain’s unfair energy system, such as providing a free ‘energy for all’ allowance for those that need it.”

Experts rally to support calls for better energy bill support

Charities and the energy sector have joined calls from consumer rights champion Martin Lewis for the Government to provide more support on energy bills from 1 April 2023.

A petition for the public to sign has now been launched by campaign group 38 Degrees.

Sign now:

In a letter to the Chancellor, Lewis called for the Government to keep the energy price guarantee (EPG) at a typical £2,500 a year, rather than hiking it to £3,000 a year as currently planned.

With the Energy Bills Support Scheme ending at the same time, households will see the real cost of their bills increase by around 43% from an average bill of £2,100 this year.

Over 70 organisations have now come out in support of the call, including: Age UK, Christians Against Poverty, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, Warm This Winter, Centre for Sustainable Energy, Energy Action Scotland, Huntington’s Disease Association, Epilepsy Action, Fairer Housing, Advice for Renters, Scope, South West London Law Centres, FareShare, Green Alliance, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, MS Society, Nesta, Sense, Leonard Cheshire and Mencap.

Energy UK, the trade association for the energy industry, has also come out in support of the call.

The letter says the planned increase in the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) will increase bills for almost every home in the country:

This comes at the same time that the £400 energy bills support scheme comes to an end.

Yet things have changed since then, and I would ask you to urgently consider postponing that increase. This cannot wait until the Budget – in practice, energy firms will need to know much sooner if the planned rise isn’t happening on 1 April, or they are bound to have to communicate to customers that it is coming.

This decision to increase prices was made at a time when wholesale rates were looking to be far higher than they are now.

In fact, on current predictions the EPG subsidy may well only be needed from April to July. After that, the underlying price cap currently looks like it may be cheaper than even the current EPG rate of £2,500 a year for a typical household.

This means the provisioned Government expenditure on the energy subsidy will be billions less than expected when the plans were made, giving significant headroom to enable a postponement. Plus, maintaining a lower EPG will also help reduce inflation.

In real terms, the package of support for the most vulnerable households in 2023/24 risks being even less than this winter when there were 9m people living in cold damp homes.

Failure to act was described by Martin Lewis as a “national act of self-harm.”

Coalition responds to ongoing energy crisis

The Coalition has been quoted in The I and the Morning Star, responding to the ongoing energy crisis.

A spokesperson said:

While there seems to be plenty of political support for subsidies for high energy use firms, there is silence on supporting the millions facing fuel poverty this winter.
Of course there is a balancing act to play between calling for an increased payments and extending the scope of existing schemes.
But we know there is a crisis facing the country this winter and so in addition to extending existing schemes, additional short-term energy debt relief measures will be needed.
As a starting point everyone who is eligible for the cold weather payment should also get the winter fuel payment.
This would mean extending the payment to broadly the same cohort who are eligible for the Warm Home Discount, this includes households in receipt of Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance as well as Universal Credit.
This should help an additional 2.6 million households across the UK. If paid at the higher level this would help counter the recent rise in energy prices covered by the Ofgem price cap.
These short term changes will buy the government time to work out a longer-term solution which will be needed from 1 April when the price cap is increased again.

Fuel poverty increases on horizon due to energy crisis

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has warned of a drastic rise in the number of households affected by fuel poverty unless urgent action is taken.

With wholesale energy costs increasing, experts are increasingly concerned at the impact this will have on fuel bills.

Simon Francis, Co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:
Where wholesale energy prices rise, consumer prices follow – usually with a six month lag due to the Ofgem price capping process.
The latest rises in wholesale prices means that we face the possibility of more households facing fuel poverty than ever before. And with fuel poverty comes increased risks of suffering the worst effects of respiratory illnesses, such as Covid-19.
Indeed, when combined with the increase in general prices caused by inflation and Brexit supply issues, we face the real possibility of fuel poverty levels increasing drastically.
The Government must take urgent action to ensure people don’t have to choose between heating and eating this winter while rapidly deploying programmes to improve the energy efficiency of homes.
Coalition members have also highlighted the problems caused by rising energy prices. Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Advocacy at National Energy Action, said:
This is the toughest start to an autumn that I can remember. This toxic cocktail of challenges will leave millions of households struggling to cope with less income and higher costs. For many it will be an impossible task.
We need immediate support for those on lowest incomes, we need to clear levels of household energy debt fast, we need to give more protection to the fuel poor from future price rises and we need to reduce people’s exposure to high prices by making homes more efficient.

Ian Preston head of household energy at CSE said:

Heating your home isn’t cheap and with the price of energy sky rocketing right before winter, it is going to be a difficult time for many people. Keeping healthily warm is a basic human right and it’s wrong that so many people are struggling with cold homes when living in a developed country like the UK.

CSE has energy saving advice and top tips for people worried their energy supplier is about to go bust or thinking of switching as prices soar.

Cold homes cause misery, ill-health and social exclusion. Many government and industry support programmes, like furlough, are due to end soon and the energy advice sector will face a tsunami of demand from people needing support. We need urgent action from government to maintain support for people in vulnerable circumstances.

A spokesperson for Age UK added:

Lots of older people will have seen the reports about the possibility of energy shortages & price hikes coming soon and will be extremely anxious as a result. It’s hard enough for many to keep warm through the winter as it is, but now it seems this annual challenge could become tougher still.

We urge older people not to be overly concerned at this stage, pending more information from Government, which we hope will be published very soon. In the meantime, if you are having problems paying your energy bills, or repaying a debt, it is the duty of your energy company to help you so it’s worth getting in touch with them, though at present their phone lines are likely to be busy.  Any older person is also welcome to call the Age UK advice line. Hopefully we can assist you, for example by checking you are receiving all the financial help to which you are entitled.

If these reports about soaring energy bills turn out to be true Age UK will certainly be calling on the Government to take action so that a problem in the energy sector doesn’t translate into a tragedy for millions of older people who can’t keep their homes adequately warm.

Reactions to devastating Ofgem price cap increase

With Ofgem announcing that the energy bill price cap is set to increase from 1 October, charities, trade unions, campaigners and politicians have been reacting to the news.

Described as “devastating” by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and National Energy Action, the latest analysis of the Ofgem data shows the significance of the energy price increase:

Media and politicians across the political divide have been responding to the concerns of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

Classic FM said that the timing of the price hike “may seem cruel”, while the Guardian Editorial on Saturday wrote:

If ministers display the same tin ear that they did towards Marcus Rashford over children’s food poverty in this new crisis over fuel poverty, they will get what they deserve. They cannot say they have not been warned. The choice is theirs.

Meanwhile more Coalition members have also reacted to the news. Christine Nicholls from Community Action Northumberland commented:

It is now more important than ever we support people with switching to better tariffs, the timing of this increase will hit vulnerable families hard, families already struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

Tamara Sandoul, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said:

A price rise in energy bills this Autumn – right before the coldest months of the year – is likely to have devastating consequences. Living in a cold home can contribute to a range of serious health conditions, especially in vulnerable groups. We know that when people can’t afford to heat their home, they underheat it in order to make ends meet, resulting in ill health and additional costs and pressure on the NHS at the busiest time of the year.

Ofgem’s decision is expected to result in nearly half a million extra households living in fuel poverty. This would mean a serious step back for the Government’s targets of reducing fuel poverty. The move could also exacerbate the levels of homelessness. Many people living in the private rented sector have been struggling to meet the costs of their housing throughout the pandemic. Now that furlough and other Covid-related support is coming to an end, the cost of increased energy bills could push some tenants into arrears, debt and homelessness.

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