Government ‘must do more’ to help energy consumers pay soaring bills

Politics

The government must increase its energy bills discount by at least 150% or risk pushing millions of households into financial distress.

That is the warning from consumer group Which? ahead of Friday’s announcement of the energy price cap for the three months from October.

In May, the government said that it would give every household a £400 discount on energy bills, with more help available for those deemed vulnerable, such as the disabled or pensioners.

This was announced when the energy price cap was predicted to reach around £2,800 in October, but more recent forecasts are predicting £3,554 in October, £4,650 in January, and more than £5,300 in April.

Which? said that the government’s support should, therefore, increase from £400 to £1,000 – or from £67 to £167 per month from October to March.

But even this would not be enough for those on the lowest incomes, Which? said, adding that they should also be given an extra one-off minimum payment of £150.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, added: “While increased support will provide relief for many, it is not a long-term solution.

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“The government and regulator must urgently undertake a wide-ranging review of retail energy pricing – including the price cap – to build a fair and affordable system for consumers.

“The government must also develop a programme to urgently improve the insulation of homes – as this will help to reduce people’s energy costs for years to come.”

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation said that, even with the support already announced, the four million people on pre-payment meters – often the most vulnerable – would be spending around 44% of their monthly disposable income on bills.

Jonny Marshall, a senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “A catastrophe is coming this winter as soaring energy bills risk causing serious physical and financial damage to families across Britain.

“We are on course for thousands to see their energy cut off entirely, while millions will be unable to pay bills and (will) build up unmanageable arrears.

“The new prime minister will need to think the unthinkable in terms of the policies needed to get sufficient support to where it’s needed most.

“Significant additional support should be targeted at those most exposed to rising bills and least able to cope with them, and be watertight so that no-one falls through the cracks.

“But none of the proposals from the leadership candidates or the opposition parties currently do this.”

The foundation also called for a new social energy tariff for low and middle income households, funded by an extra 1% on income tax rates.

Read more:
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Mr Marshall said that would have been “an unthinkable policy in the context of the leadership debates, but a practical solution to the reality facing families this winter”.

Alison Garnham, Child Poverty Action Group chief executive, added that low-income families will be short on their energy bills by an estimated £1,000 in the year to April 2023.

She said: “Over the next few months families will need extra support that covers their costs and reflects family size, and social security must rise to match inflation from April.

“Four million children are already in poverty with many others now perilously close to it. Leaving their families to sink cannot be an option.”

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: “We know the pressures people are facing with rising costs, which is why we are taking direct action to help households with £37bn worth of support.

“In addition to providing eight million of the most vulnerable households with £1,200 extra support this winter, we are also investing £6.6bn in this parliament to improve energy efficiency as part of the government’s ‘Help to Heat’ programme which is helping make households across the country cheaper to heat.”

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