More than 2m UK households in arrears on energy bills

Citizens Advice says extra 600,000 customers have fallen behind on payments since February

More than half a million households have fallen behind on their energy bills since February, taking the total number of billpayers in arrears to more than 2 million, according to Citizens Advice.

The consumer charity said an extra 600,000 households owed payments to their energy suppliers, with the coronavirus outbreak leading to record high redundancies this year.

On average, billpayers who have fallen behind on their payments owe their energy suppliers about £760 for electricity and £605 for gas, according to Citizens Advice.

The findings show that about 16% of homes that use energy prepay meters – or almost 700,000 households – have not been able to afford a top-up since March.

The new report, which is based on figures collected from large and medium energy suppliers at the end of September, is the first to show the scale of the financial struggle facing energy bill payers, many of whom are using more energy at home due to coronavirus restrictions.

Citizens Advice warned that financial woes were likely to deepen through the colder months and that an estimated 7 million households were expected to struggle to pay their winter energy bills this year.

Alistair Cromwell, the acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We’re heading into the coldest months of the year and the full financial impacts of the pandemic are still to be felt.”

The consumer watchdog published its findings alongside new research that shows declining levels of service among energy companies, many of which are struggling financially due to rising unpaid debt from customers.

Customer service standards were “more critical than ever” to help support billpayers, said Citizens Advice, but call waiting times for two-thirds of suppliers had increased and on average energy suppliers were failing to respond to a third of customer emails within two working days.

Energy suppliers have agreed to offer payment plans to help support customers as they struggle to pay their bills, and offer homes on prepay meters credit certificates so they are not left in the dark when they cannot afford a top-up.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

The larger energy suppliers are understood to be pushing for the regulator to raise the energy price cap for the standard variable tariff from Spring so they can reclaim lost revenues from customers who are still able to pay their bills.

Ofgem, the industry regulator, said it had “strong protections in place for consumers” and expected customers to “be able to easily contact their supplier across a range of channels”.

“We closely monitor and engage with energy suppliers and will take appropriate action over poor customer service where needed,” the spokesman added.


Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Energy bills to be cut by £84 for 11m UK households
Ofgem will also lower cap for pre-payment energy meter customers by about £94 a year

Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent

07, Aug, 2020 @3:19 PM

Article image
Energy bills could increase to cover coronavirus defaults
Regulator considers raising cap to use paying customers to subsidise others

Jillian Ambrose

15, Sep, 2020 @3:55 PM

Article image
Energy bills to be cut by around £75 for more than 11m households
Ofgem figure falls short of £100 promised by Theresa May for customers on poor-value tariffs

Adam Vaughan

06, Sep, 2018 @6:39 AM

Article image
11m UK households in line for £100 savings on energy bills
Ofgem expected to make sharp cut to cap on tariffs following record low prices during crisis

Jillian Ambrose

06, Aug, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Energy bills to rise for about 15m households in Great Britain
Regulator Ofgem will lift price cap on tariffs to pre-pandemic levels

Mark Sweney and Jillian Ambrose

05, Feb, 2021 @1:37 PM

Article image
Energy bills for millions of households to fall after gas prices halve
Market prices plummet in Europe after record high gas imports from US, Russia and Qatar

Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent

26, Dec, 2019 @3:41 PM

Article image
Energy bills to fall for about 15m households as price cap lowered
Ofgem makes decision due to falling cost of gas and power on wholesale market

Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent

07, Feb, 2020 @8:37 AM

Article image
Poorer UK households to get help with higher winter fuel bills
Rules from regulator Ofgem will require suppliers to offer easier debt terms or emergency credit

Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent

19, Oct, 2020 @5:01 AM

Article image
UK households urged to brace for £80-a-year hike in energy bills
Ofgem plans to lift cap on standard energy tariffs in April as market price for gas soars

Jillian Ambrose

21, Jan, 2021 @2:31 PM

Article image
Energy firms warned by watchdog of 'radical' change ahead
Ofgem tells suppliers to prepare for range of reforms, including switching customers automatically to better deals

Adam Vaughan

19, Oct, 2017 @2:22 PM