As our Consumer Editor Chris Choi has been hearing, a delay in new support is a wait many feel they can not afford
Households already owe £1.3 billion to their energy suppliers two months before bills are set to soar by more than 80%.
The overall debt bill is already three times higher than it was a year ago, experts at Uswitch said on Wednesday, and it seems likely it will grow further over the winter.
Six million homes across the UK owe an average of £206 to their energy provider, according to a survey from the company. In April the same average debt was £188.
It comes as regulator Ofgem is expected to hike the price cap on energy bills to £3,582 per year for the average household in Great Britain from the beginning of October, according to a new forecast.
Analysts at Cornwall Insight predicted further rises, to £4,266 in January and then £4,427 from the start of April.
“Energy debt has hit an all-time high with the worst possible timing, turning this winter’s energy price hike into a deeply precarious situation for many households,” said Justina Miltienyte, head of policy at Uswitch.
“This is an alarming situation, as summer is traditionally a time when households are using less power for heating, which helps bill payers to build up energy credit ahead of the winter.”
The survey showed that eight million households have no credit balances, meaning they have no cushion against the winter misery.
The two Tory leadership candidates - Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak - are under pressure to do more now to tackle the deepening cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Sunak, the former chancellor, announced a £15bn support package for consumers in May, including £400 for every household. But, as wholesale prices have since threatened to wipe out the impact of that package, he has recently said that he would seek government "efficiency savings" to fund the support if he were to become PM.
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Liz Truss said on Wednesday that her priority would be on boosting "energy supply", lowering prices to help customers struggling with soaring energy bills, as well as slashing taxes. "We need to get more gas out of the north sea, we need to look at fracking in parts of the country that support that, and we need to get on with bringing those supplies on stream," she said. "We need to make sure that the budget is right for the situation we face," Ms Truss added, after refusing to spell out the details of any future autumn policy announcements. Pushed on whether she would come to a consensus with Mr Sunak on intervening over the energy crisis now, the foreign secretary insisted she would take action on "day one".
'The answer to our problems is not more taxes,' Liz Truss said
"We have the highest taxes we have had for 70 years in this country, we are threatened with a recession - what we need to do is keep taxes low, attract investment," she said.
"I will do all I can to make sure that energy companies are delivering."
Ms Truss went on to dismiss any more taxes - including a windfall one on energy companies - as a "Gordon Brown style solution". The comments come as nearly one in five people (18%) said they are worried about their supplier forcing them to take a prepayment meter if they fall behind on bills, although 38% said they did not know their supplier could do this.
“If you are behind on your bill payments, or your energy account is going into debt, speak to your provider as soon as possible,” Ms Miltienyte said.
“They should be able to help you find a solution, such as working out a more affordable payment plan. You may also find you are eligible for additional support such as hardship funds and other energy help schemes.
There are several ways for customers to save on bills. One of the simplest is to turn down the flow temperature on your condensing combi boiler.
Doing this will allow the boiler to run more efficiently and could save around £200 off an average energy bill.
Another easy saving is to turn off the pre-heat mode on the boiler, which could mean hot water taps taking longer to heat up, but could save hundreds of pounds a year.
Experts also advise households to check if they are eligible for extra support.
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