More than three million households are entering winter in debt to their energy supplier — half a million more than last year, according to new research from Uswitch.com, the comparison and switching service.
Households are going into the coldest time of year owing £510 million, a rise of £77 million since 2020, with many feeling additional pressures caused by the rising cost of energy.
Energy accounts should ideally be in credit after the summer months, and this is the case for 13.9 million households. Building up credit in the summer months typically prevents having a sharp increase in bills over winter when we consume most of our annual energy use.
However, the number in credit has fallen by 4% compared to last year.
Of those in debt, three fifths (62%) say their debt is higher or the same as it was last year, while only one in eight (13%) say the amount they owe is lower. The average amount owed is £153.
This year, over half (59%) of households say they are either worried, or very worried, about how they are going to pay for their energy bills this winter.
Almost a fifth (17%) of households say they will go further than just using their energy more efficiently and will avoid putting the heating on even when it’s cold, and more than two million will spend less on food.
For those who are concerned about debt – or are not sure where to seek help and advice, a number of charities and organisations are set up to provide support.
Uswitch is now calling on households to check to see what help might be available for them.
Debt charities like StepChange provide guidance for people experiencing financial difficulties and National Energy Action (NEA) offers advice on energy bills and keeping warm at home.
There is also extra help available for vulnerable consumers through schemes like the Winter Fuel Payment, Cold Weather Payment, and Warm Home Discount.
Energy customers can also use Uswitch’s eligibility tool to find out if they qualify for individual schemes.
Justina Miltienyte, energy policy expert at Uswitch.com, said: “No customer should have to choose between heating or eating and it’s alarming that many households are facing that decision this winter.
“Anyone who is worried about their energy bills, or their existing debt, should contact their energy supplier in the first instance to see if they can set up an affordable repayment plan.
“There are also many charities and organisations set up to provide support, such as StepChange and NEA, so it’s important to do your research and see what help is out there and available to you.
“Other support might be available for customers struggling with their bills. Warm Home Discount applications are still open with almost all of the suppliers which were involved last year. Eligible customers can receive £140 off their energy bills, so we would encourage anyone to check to see if they might be entitled to this payment.”