Energy debt causing households to live in fear of loan sharks

Households in energy debt are turning to illegal money lenders to pay for their bills and everyday essentials, according to new research shared with the House of Commons Energy Security and Net Zero Committee today.

Research among households in energy debt by the Warm This Winter campaign, found that almost one in five (18%) have turned to illegal money lending sources in the last 12 months. [1]

Among younger households in debt the situation is even worse, with a quarter (24%) of under 35s and a third (32%) of customers aged 35-44 turning to illegal money lending.

In the next 12 months, the illegal debt mountain is due to grow with two-thirds of households in energy debt due to look for more sources of money. While many will turn to credit cards (27%) and overdrafts (14%), 20% will borrow from family and 14% will turn to illegal money lenders.

The impact on households is that 13% of customers in energy debt owe money to someone they are frightened of. This figure rises to 18% among those living with long-term illness and in households with young children under the age of 5.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition gave evidence to the Committee and presented them with the research findings:

“The findings are horrific and worse than experts had feared. 

“Energy debt is forcing households to wake up in the morning scared of the consequences of using electricity or gas.

“Energy bills and energy debt are a fundamental part of our broken energy system which has led to the cold damp homes crisis we saw this winter. 

“The long term solutions are obviously wider than changes to standing charges and tariff reform. We need to see more insulation, ventilation, unblocked cheaper renewables and weaning ourselves off oil and gas to improve energy security.”

The Committee also heard that Time of Use tariffs, one of the main proposed solutions to high energy bills, risk leaving behind millions of households. Research by Survation for campaign group 38 Degrees found that over half (54%) of the public may become energy exiles – unable to access the latest market innovations due to their household circumstances. [2]

Veronica Hawking, acting campaigns director at 38 Degrees said:

“This research shows millions could miss out on time-specific tariffs designed to lower bills, through absolutely no fault of their own. This includes people who rely on energy for medical needs, who need to leave the house at a regular time of day, or who can’t access a smart meter.

“That’s why it’s crucial that any changes to our broken energy system must be underpinned by a social tariff, and why the government’s U-turn on a social tariff consultation was a huge missed opportunity. Whoever forms the next government must make it an absolute priority.”

As well as introducing a social tariff and banning discriminatory energy tariffs, the Committee heard recommendations on tackling the energy debt crisis. These included:

  1. A universal, consistent, nationwide, debt matching programme funded by the £1.3bn customers are paying through our bills for energy debt costs this year.
  2. A ban on energy firms from selling on debt to debt collectors.
  3. Better regulation of energy debt with energy debt and debt collection agencies used by energy firms to be subject to Financial Conduct Authority rules.
  4. More training for energy firms’ staff in recognising illegal money lending.
  5. Reforms to standing charges, including their abolition for prepayment meter customers if certain conditions are met. [3]

Warm This Winter spokesperson Fiona Waters said: 

“We like to think of ourselves as a civilised society but surely having heat and power is a fundamental human right for everyone and the idea that people are so desperate they are turning to dangerous loan sharks is horrific. 

“It’s extremely worrying to see a quarter of under 35 year-olds in energy debt have no way out other than turning to illegal money lending. This is setting themselves up for a lifetime of being at the mercy of loan sharks and their ilk and I dread to think of the impact this has on young families. 

“We need a government that won’t abandon people with unaffordable energy bills and will instead invest in permanent solutions, like home insulation and homegrown renewable energy.”

Jonathan Bean, from Fuel Poverty Action added:

“Energy inequality is growing to dangerous levels, with millions of us starved of energy or forced into dangerous borrowing. We need a fairer system where everyone is safe, and has access to cheap renewable energy.”


[1] Research was conducted among 500 people across the UK living with energy debt. The interviews were conducted online by Sapio Research between April and May 2024 using an email invitation and an online survey. 

Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 4.4 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample. Sample was selected from Online partner panels. 

[2] Survation polling for 38 Degrees. Survation polled 2,018 members of the general public, online between 26-29 April. Data were weighted to the profile of individuals aged 18+ in UK. Data were weighted by age, sex,  region, ethnicity, education level, and annual household income. The total includes those who are unable to access smart meters, rely on energy for medical or disability needs, have inefficient heating or who are unable to control when they use electrical appliances.

[3] Campaigners have called for reform of standing charges so that:

  • Investment and all policy costs are moved onto general taxation (and an end to the Ofgem “float and true up process”)
  • Reductions in marketing, operating, headroom and EBIT allowances for suppliers and moving marketing and operating costs onto unit charges to improve market competitiveness.
  • Review the £30bn profits in the network and transmission sector and examine the impact of moving network costs onto unit charges.
  • After reforms and reductions in charges, the end to PPM standing charges should be possible, subject to further analysis and equalities impact assessments.

Almost 5,000 excess winter deaths caused by cold homes last winter

The House of Commons Energy Security and Net Zero Committee has heard estimates that there were 4,706 excess winter deaths in 2022/23 caused by living in a cold home in England, Scotland and Wales. [1]

The figures, compiled by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition using official data, were presented to MPs at the Committee’s inquiry into Government preparations for winter.

At the same time, a report card by the Warm This Winter campaign on the Government’s progress against 8 key measures to tackle the energy bills crisis, has revealed that on half of these measures Ministers are making no progress. [2]

The report card shows that on 3 measures rapid progress is needed, but on one measure, the Government has actually gone backwards, by taking steps that will deepen the country’s reliance on expensive fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, mounting evidence suggests that a new class system is emerging in Britain, based on access to energy.

Fewer than 5m of the UK’s 28m households could be classed as being in the “energy elite” and unaffected by the current energy bills crisis. Around 8m have to borrow money to pay their energy bills and over 1m have disconnected for periods this year. [3]

The rest of the population are also subject to high energy bills, which have doubled in the last three years. Among this wider group, people have used up savings and cut back on essentials to keep the lights and heat on. With winter approaching and the cost of living crisis continuing, the ability of people to pay sky high energy costs is severely diminished. [4]

The health implications of living in cold damp homes are severe. In addition to contributing to excess winter deaths, existing medical conditions are made worse and a new pan-European study found that two-thirds of people in fuel poverty experience debilitating depression or anxiety. [5]

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition was among consumer groups giving evidence to the Committee:

A spokesperson for the Coalition also commented:

“The public see tackling the energy bills crisis as the main way the Government can help ease the cost of living crisis, but sadly ministers have been making slow or no progress on the policies needed to keep people warm this winter and the next.

“Thousands of people die every year in cold damp homes and countless more turn to the NHS as existing health conditions worsen due to living in such conditions. Fuel poverty is a public health crisis, but it can only be addressed by economic and engineering solutions.

“Many of the solutions do not need to place extra burden on the Treasury and we expect MPs to ensure ministers and the energy industry do much more to help those most in need this winter.”

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, which is part of the Warm This Winter campaign, added:

“Energy is now barely affordable for a majority of households in the UK, and millions of people are saddled with energy debt or have had to disconnect because they are simply priced out of today’s energy market. 

“While it helped pay our bills last year, this government has done nothing to fix Britain’s broken energy system. There’s been next to no progress on insulating homes or unblocking the barriers to cheaper renewable energy. Instead, we’ve had a lot of hot air over new North Sea drilling, which will do nothing to lower people’s bills. The real solutions are obvious, the government is just failing to act.”

Jonathan Bean, spokesperson for Fuel Poverty Action said: 

“The country will never forgive a government that allows energy firms to profiteer whilst children go hungry and their grandparents are left shivering in their beds. And now Ofgem is planning to allow homes to be broken into again this winter to install prepayment meters – terrorising those struggling to stay warm.”


The House of Commons Energy Security & Net Zero Committee Inquiry starts at 1000 on Wednesday 6 September and can be viewed online:

[1] Excess Winter Deaths (EWDs) for winter 2022/23 data taken from provisional tables from:

  • Office of National Statistics (table 11, England: column J, lines 13-16 = 18,142 EWDs. Wales: column J, lines 37-40 = 1,324 EWDs) 
  • National Records of Scotland (link, table M1, col. N, lines 221-224 = 2,424 EWDs). 
  • Institute of Health Equity methodology suggests that 21.5% of EWDs are caused by living in cold homes. 

Applying the IHE methodology to EWDs, means that the number of EWDs caused by living in cold damp homes are: England 3,906, Scotland 521, Wales 285. Total 4,706. 

All data is flagged as provisional. NI data not available yet. Winter is defined as December, January, February and March.

Comparative number for winter 2021/22 (i.e. excluding NI) is 3,186. Previous years data sourced from ONS and NRS and collated by EFPC and published online.

[2] The Warm This Winter Report Card, summary below.

Help for people THIS WINTER

Provide more financial support for those most in need 

Is the government fixing it? NO PROGRESS

Tackle the growing energy debt mountain

Is the government fixing it? NO PROGRESS

Stop forcing people onto more expensive pre-payment meters

Is the government fixing it? NO PROGRESS

An affordable ‘social tariff’ for people priced out of the market

Is the government fixing it? NO PROGRESS

Lowering energy bills FOR GOOD

Reduce bills for good with a nationwide insulation drive

Is the government fixing it? RAPID PROGRESS NEEDED

Lower electricity costs by developing more renewable energy 

Is the government fixing it? RAPID PROGRESS NEEDED

Reduce the UK’s reliance on expensive gas imports

Is the government fixing it? GOING BACKWARDS

Claw back excessive profits 

Is the government fixing it? RAPID PROGRESS NEEDED

The full report card and source data is available:

[3] 28.2m ONS household data. 16% of the population have been able to maintain usual spending so far, and expect to be able to continue to do so (YouGov, July 2023), which is also supported by Grant Thornton figures on projected household expenditure in 2021/22 (suggested that 14% of households are financially immune from cuts). 

8m figure from Citizens Advice. 1m figure from Ofgem based on Q1 2023.

[4] “Used up savings” (Bank of England, as reported by Press Association, 29 June 2023), “cut back on essentials” (YouGov, July 2023).

[5] Latest health resources and evidence cited on the End Fuel Poverty Coalition website. Two thirds of people in cold damp homes suffer from anxiety or depression according to a Europe-wide study by the Wellbased group of academics [pdf].

New PM and politicians urged to support genuine solutions to energy crisis

The new Prime Minister, MPs and Peers are being urged to back calls by campaigners to lower energy bills.

A briefing to MPs and Peers from the Warm this Winter campaign calls on Parliamentarians to push for a coherent plan to wean the UK off gas through a national rollout of home insulation and affordable renewables.

The campaign is also demanding that the new government provides more direct emergency financial support for everyone this winter, but particularly low-income households.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

If the new Prime Minister is serious about dealing with energy bills and the long term issues of energy supply, the Government must back plans for lower energy bills now and in the future.

That means more emergency money for people this winter, funding to help everyone cut their bills with better insulation, and a rapid move away from expensive gas and onto cheaper, renewable energy.

Warm This Winter petition supporting the campaign’s demands has been signed by 120,000 people since it was launched last weekend.

The rapidly growing campaign is working with Peers to table a series of amendments to the Government’s flagship Energy Bill, which starts Committee Stage in the Lords today, that would force the new Prime Minister to reduce the UK’s dependency on global gas markets.

Briefing note to Members of Parliament – link here.

Briefing note on the Energy Bill for Members of the House of Lords – link here.

In response to the crisis, Liz Truss has pledged to “exploit all of the gas in the North Sea” as well as supporting fracking where there is the consent of communities.

Experts have warned that increasing domestic gas production would do next to nothing to lower energy bills. In a speech this week, Boris Johnson also expressed doubt that fracked gas would “prove to be a panacea” for the energy crisis. Instead, he noted that offshore wind is the cheapest form of electricity in the UK and is now nine times cheaper than UK gas.

Tessa Khan, director of Uplift said:

In every constituency across the country, households and businesses are looking at their energy bills with dread, knowing that they cannot fix this on their own.

Finally, MPs now have an opportunity to push for measures that will help people this winter and make sure the country is in a better position in winters to come.

Even if it were possible, more domestic gas won’t lower bills. All it will do is increase industry profits and lock us into an unaffordable energy source for longer than necessary.

Warm this Winter is a new campaign demanding the government acts now to help tackle rising energy bills this winter and to ensure energy is affordable for everyone in the future. It is supported by leading anti-poverty and environmental organisations, including Save the Children, WWF and the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. Its demands of government are:

  1. Emergency support now: Provide a new package of financial support to people who, without additional urgent action, will be on the front-line of poverty this winter.
  2. Help to upgrade homes: Launch a properly-funded programme of home upgrades and insulation across the UK to bring down bills and prevent energy waste.
  3. Cheap energy: More than triple the amount of renewable energy in the UK by 2030, including wind and solar generated in harmony with nature, so that we can permanently lower bills.
  4. Free us from oil and gas: Stop opening up new oil and gas fields so that we can escape our dependence on volatile fossil fuels.

Members of the Warm this Winter coalition wrote to the Conservative leadership candidates in July urging them to use the summer to come up with credible proposals for ensuring that every household could afford to heat their home this winter and – with gas prices expected to stay high until at least 2025 – for lowering energy costs in future.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition concluded:

We urge MPs to back these calls for genuine solutions to help people this winter and in future, and to ignore the special pleading of the oil and gas industry.

The seriousness of this crisis demands that they back measures that will tangibly make a difference to people’s lives.

Commons committee backs urgent action on fuel poverty

The Government should immediately update its package of support to help households with soaring energy bills before the cost-of-living crisis grips even harder following October’s energy price cap increase, according to a new report by the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. 

The report argues that the Government’s Energy Bills Support Scheme will not be enough given the continued rising energy prices households will face. MPs warn that the size of the package has been ‘eclipsed by the scale of the crisis.’ 

Committee Chair Darren Jones MP said:

Once again, the energy crisis is racing ahead of the Government. To prevent millions from dropping into unmanageable debt it’s imperative that the support package is updated and implemented before October, when the squeeze will become a full-on throttling of household finances and further tip the economy towards recession.

We were told by a number of witnesses, ‘if you think things are bad now, you’ve not seen anything yet’. This Winter is going to be extremely difficult for family finances and it’s therefore critical that public funds are better targeted to those who need it the most.

It’s an injustice that the poorest households continue to pay higher energy costs because they’re on prepayment meters. This must end and a social tariff should be brought forward.

Ultimately, Ministers know that the long-term solution is to reduce our need for energy through insulation works that keep our homes warm in winter and cool in summer. If the Government is really taking this energy crisis and the country’s net zero targets seriously it will come forward with a bold, fully funded, national home insulation program before the end of the year.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said:

MPs are right. The crisis facing millions of homes as energy bills continue to soar is ‘ongoing and severe’.

The energy bills crisis this winter is a nightmare scenario, but the Government is sleepwalking into it.

Tory leadership hopefuls and Ministers need to wake up and announce urgent financial support to offset the predicted price rises this winter and further help vulnerable homes stay warm this winter.

But financial support will only be a stop gap solution.

We also need to see a rapid roll-out of support to make homes and community buildings more energy efficient, a full review of the consumer energy market and action to bring cheap renewable energy on stream as fast as possible.

A spokesperson for National Energy Action added:

Energy prices continue to spiral, and vulnerable households in the energy market are being hardest hit. It is vital that the plans from the UK Government and Ofgem are scrutinised by Parliament, and they act on this credible set of recommendations to help the poorest households through the energy crisis, this winter and beyond.

The next Prime Minister will need to implement these recommendations urgently, topping up the current energy support, announced in May, to offset the October increases. We also agree with the cross-party recommendation to introduce a social tariff to give fuel-poor households deep, enduring protection against persistent high energy prices, and putting in place a new scheme to help households that have accrued a mountain of debt during the crisis. The regulator must also not duck its role in reducing the growing burden of standing charges that are hitting struggling households the most. Overall, it is critical to ensure that pre-payment meter customers do not pay more for their energy and are not punished further as a result of finding their bills already unaffordable.

Finally, the winner of the leadership contest must ensure that reducing the wasted energy in our homes becomes a much more prominent part of the policy response. Improving energy efficiency should be top of their agenda as it will help ease future price spikes now and in the future.