The predicted 50% rise in energy bills from April could trigger a national emergency for millions of older people, with some pensioners already putting their health at risk by rationing food, a charity has warned.
Age UK has said people are being forced to switch off their heating and limit hot showers as they face tough choices to pay for their increased energy bills amid a cost of living crisis.
The global gas crisis triggered the fastest rise in energy bills on record in October, with further increases to capped bills to cover the cost of bankrupt suppliers due in April.
The charity has now urged ministers to take immediate and decisive action on energy bills to “mitigate the potentially devastating impact of the escalating crisis”.
In a letter this week to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, and Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, the charity wrote: “We know that many older people on low incomes already feel under so much financial pressure that they are rationing their energy use, and this is causing us real concern.
“For example, we have heard from older people who are too worried to use their oven and are living off soup and sandwiches instead, showering only every two days rather than daily, and constantly watching their smart meter and turning their heating off once their daily spending exceeds the meagre limit they have set.
“Now that winter is well and truly upon us, it is all the more important that older people on low incomes have the confidence to keep their heating switched on so they can stay adequately warm over the next few months and protect their health."
The government’s price cap, which limits the amounts that suppliers can charge, is currently at an already record-beating £1,277.
But analysts at Investec think this could go up to £1,995 on April 1.
The rises are due to a major spike in global gas prices, which have been pushed up by high demand around the world.
The surge has been blamed on a number of factors, including high demand for liquefied natural gas from Asia and a reduction in supplies from Russia.
Age UK said rising inflation was already eating into the pensions of swathes of older people, but warned that the unprecedented hike in wholesale energy prices would be unmanageable for those living on low fixed incomes.
Older people are typically at home more than younger age groups and feel the cold to a greater extent, meaning predictions of a £600 bill increase is likely to be a significant underestimation for many.
The charity said cutting the five percent VAT from all households’ energy bills from April until at least the end of 2022 and providing additional payments of up to £500 to those on the lowest incomes could encourage vulnerable older people to keep their heating on this winter.
The energy crisis has already seen more than 26 energy suppliers go bust.
Age UK’s director Caroline Abrahams said: “The astronomical hike in energy prices now widely anticipated has already forced many deeply anxious older people on low incomes to turn their heating down below what is comfortable or advisable, with some switching it off altogether for some or all of the day and night.
“Make no mistake, this situation will have a devastating impact on the health of our older population unless the government intervenes quickly and takes their fears away."
A government spokesperson said: “We are taking decisive action to help more than 11.4 million pensioners with the cost of living by providing Winter Fuel Payments of up to £300 per household.
“This is on top of wider support which includes billions of pounds for households via the Energy Price Cap, Warm Home Discount Scheme, Cold Weather Payments, Household Support Fund, and freezes to alcohol and fuel duty."