Pleas to save millions of homes from fuel poverty as annual bills could reach £2,000

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Charities yesterday called for extra help to keep the elderly and vulnerable warm this winter. Crucial energy industries also held crisis talks with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. Experts say bills could surge by £800 to £2,000 a year. The energy price cap went up to £1,277 a year on October 1 and regulator Ofgem has warned of another big rise in April. Domestic customers who lost fixed-term contracts as suppliers went bust are particularly expected to suffer.

Ofgem’s CEO Jonathan Brearley, below, said: “The wholesale market has gone up and down extremely quickly so we can’t predict fully what that will be. But looking at the costs in the system, we are expecting a significant rise in April.”

UK gas prices reached an all-time record earlier this week after having risen dramatically since the start of the year. Low levels of stored gas have left the UK more exposed to price volatility than some other countries. Support is available for OAPs and the vulnerable, including up to £300 in winter fuel payments and £140 off electricity bills under the warm-home discount.

But campaigners called for extra cash as official figures show that around 13 percent of England’s households – 3.18 million – were in fuel poverty in 2019. Charities say more than four million bill payers are struggling and that number could reach 1.5 million if the price cap rises by £400 to £600 a year.

Adam Scorer, of National Energy Action, said: “The impact on health, finances and quality of life could be catastrophic. We want Ofgem to ensure vulnerable consumers aren’t put at risk when their supplier fails and for companies to provide deeper protection for low-income consumers. Central government must also provide more direct financial support, such as increasing the warm-home discount or extending the winter fuel payments.”

Ruth London, of Fuel Poverty Action, said: “Even before these price rises and the pandemic, around 10,000 people each winter died in the UK because they couldn’t afford to heat their homes. Now the rising cost of fuel, low wages, and the Universal Credit cut will cause many more deaths and misery for pensioners, children, and everyone in between.”

Which? consumer rights expert Adam French said customers still on cheaper deals should stick with them during the winter when bills are higher. But he said it may be worth considering a pricier fixed tariff before the April changes to guard against future increases.

Consumer expert Scott Dixon called Ofgem a “toothless watchdog”, saying: “New entrants to the energy market were never screened properly and business models were not subject to proper scrutiny.”

Eco entrepreneur DaleVince said many now collapsed smaller suppliers had “gambled on future prices and lost”. He said: “They should not have been allowed to enter the market and treat it like a casino. That is on Ofgem. But like the price cap rise, this change will come after the damage is done. It should not have taken this catastrophe for us to have common-sense regulation.”

Alex Belsham-Harris, of Citizens Advice, said April’s energy price cap rise would be a “hammer blow” for many. He added: “The Government must urgently plan to support people with even higher energy bills next year.”

Industries such as chemical, paper and glass warned of a production slowdown when the Energy Intensive Users Group met Mr Kwarteng. Group chairman Richard Leese said: “We will work with the Government to avoid threats, both to the production of essential domestic and industrial products and an enormous range of supply chains critical to our economy and levelling up.”

Comment by Caroline Abrahams

HIGH energy prices, cold homes and poor health often make the winter a difficult time for many older people. More than ever, this year poses a particular challenge with rising household bills.

It’s vital that older people don’t ration their energy use and put their health at risk. The cold can make conditions like arthritis, MS and heart disease even worse and exacerbate breathing conditions.

There is support for older people, such as the Warm

Home Discount and Winter Fuel Payments, but these still only help with a fraction of costs.

The Government has announced £500million for councils to distribute through the Household Support Fund. It’s vital that these grants help those struggling to pay and most impacted by the cold. With the end to furlough and Universal Credit uplift, there will be many families looking for extra help,

Longer term, we need to see much more investment in making our homes warmer and more energy-efficient: the best way to avoid future fuel crises.

If you’re finding it difficult to keep up with energy bills, or you owe money to your supplier, ask them for more time to pay. You can also call the Age UK advice line free on 0800 169 6565 or visit for free information.

Caroline Abrahams is Charity director at Age UK

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