Ask ITV News: What support is available if you're struggling with your energy bills?

From cost of living payments, to your rights if you can't afford your energy bills, Sarah Corker answers your questions on the energy price cap rise

In a blow to households across the country, the energy price cap rise was confirmed on Friday morning.

From October the average household energy bill will rise to £3,549 a year.

So what are your rights? What happens if you simply can't afford to pay? And what support is out there?

In the latest of the Ask ITV News series, we answer your questions on the energy price cap rise.

Question 1: Suzy, Manchester

"I run Manchester Central Food Bank. We have clients who are already really struggling with the cost of living and with energy prices and they're turning off their appliances and trying to reduce costs as it is.

"What are they supposed to do with the increased energy costs? What do they do when they just can't afford to pay?"

Sarah Corker: It is a question many, many people are asking today, and there are no easy answers. The first thing to do is to speak to your supplier - they are legally obliged to help you if you are struggling to pay. They should work with you on a payment plan. The idea is that helps to spread the cost and make things more manageable, pay what you can afford.

If you're on a prepayment meter and you can't afford to top up, you can get temporary credit from your supplier, but you will have to pay this back.

Some companies, including British Gas, E.On and Octopus, as well as charities and local councils also have hardship funds. It’s worth looking at what’s available in your area. There are a number of energy companies who offer grants that are open to anyone - you don't have to be a customer.

However this is not a solution to the problem, that’s why there’s growing pressure on the government to do much more.

Question 2: Adam, Harrow "I'm an electric wheelchair user that uses electricity to drive my powered wheelchair. My health conditions means my energy bills are already high. What support is there for people with disabilities?"

Sarah Corker: From the end of September, around 6 million people on disability benefits will get around £150. There are also cost of living payments worth £650 for people on low incomes - first instalment of that has already been paid. For anyone who thinks they are eligible for that help, but haven’t yet got it, the best thing to do is to contact the office that pays your benefit or tax credits.

For Adam, if there’s a charity for your specific condition, see if they can offer any help. Disability charity Sense for example has set up an emergency fund with one-off payments of £500 to disabled households.

Citizens Advice Bureau also has a benefits checker - that would be worth looking at to make sure you are getting everything you are eligible to.

There’s no denying this is a scary time, and its going to get worse before it gets better. Question 3: Micky, Suffolk

"I am a single parent, I receive universal credit top-up, I also work part-time. I was already financially struggling before the energy price cap went up today. I was just wondering whether there will be any financial support that's going to be announced to help someone in my situation?"

Sarah Corker: All households will be given a £400 discount on energy bills. That will come into force in October. It’s worth Micky making contact with her children’s school to see if they are offering any extra support. We are seeing schools going further than ever to help families – setting up uniform swap shops, food banks, emergency parcels. We’ve also seen a big expansion in food pantries – places where you can get discounted food. You become a member, pay £5 a month and get access to £30 worth of shopping. It’s a model that’s helping millions of people across the UK with surging grocery bills. You can find some of them here.

Question 4: Ethan, Wiltshire

"I run pubs and restaurants. In the past 12 months we've seen a 300% increase in energy costs at one of our sites. Is there any support for businesses of our size and the people we employ?"

Sarah Corker: It’s an important question from Ethan. The first thing to say is that there is no energy price cap for businesses. That means that many are already seeing these huge, huge hikes, or their current fixed deals end in October and they are bracing for eye-watering increases. Those costs are being passed on to customers and that’s fuelling spiralling inflation. Business groups are lobbying for a cut to VAT, introduced a business rates holiday and they also want Covid-style grants for small businesses – similar to the type of support available during the pandemic. Arguably this situation for the hospitality sector, including energy intensive businesses, is financially more difficult than Covid restrictions. The government said it was "already supporting businesses by slashing fuel duty" and cutting business rates for some high street businesses. However, to date, there hasn't been much detail from the two Conservative leadership candidates on what exactly they will do to help small businesses. Question 5: Louise, Glasgow

"With news that some energy companies posted record profits, why do consumers have to pay for it?"

Sarah Corker: People might not like this answer, but the reality is energy supply is not a profitable business at the moment. We’ve seen that because 30 or so companies have already gone bust. They were operating at loss. It’s energy generation and extraction that is hugely profitable. That’s why there is a one-off windfall tax on those companies like Shell and BP. The Treasury expects it to raise about £5bn in its first year. That money will go towards pay for some of the support already announced for households. Question 6: Sarah, Brighton

"How long will this last and how high will bills likely go?" Sarah Corker: There’s no way to sugar coat this, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. The wholesale global gas market is so volatile at the moment, it’s predicted that prices could get significantly worse through 2023. The regulator Ofgem said today that energy bills started to surge as the world unlocked from the Covid pandemic and have been driven still higher to record levels by Russia slowly switching off gas supplies to Europe. One energy consultancy has predicted that the price cap will go up again in January – this time by a staggering £5,386.