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Help households with sky-high energy bills, campaigners urge Sunak

02 October 2023

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CHARITIES and consumer organisations have called on the Prime Minister to fulfil a government pledge to consult on the introduction of a discounted rate on energy bills for millions of struggling households.

Although the latest Energy Price Cap set by the regulator Ofgem — which came into effect on Sunday — is slightly lower than the previous cap, without the support of last year’s Energy Bills Support Scheme, household energy bills are about 13 per cent higher than last winter, and 50 per cent higher than two years ago.

The new cap fell by seven per cent to just under £2000 a year for the average home from 1 October. This means that the average bill will be about £160 a month.

More than 140 MPs, charities, and campaigners, including Christians Against Poverty and the consumer champion Martin Lewis, have signed a letter to Rishi Sunak calling on the Government to fulfil its pledge made last year to help vulnerable households by introducing a discounted rate for energy bills, known as a social tariff.

The letter says: “The energy crisis is not over, and while the wholesale price of gas is falling, energy bills remain sky-high. Today, some 6.6 million households find themselves in fuel poverty after a winter that pushed many into making painful choices and created record amounts of debt. Currently £2.25 billion is owed by UK households who are behind on their energy bills, up more than 70 per cent over the past three years.

“These are people whose bills have become so unaffordable that they are having to make the desperate choice nobody should have to make — between heating and eating. But, as your Government has itself acknowledged, we also need to work towards a longer term solution. We are therefore calling on the Government to publish the crucial consultation it committed to a year ago on future protection for energy consumers.”

Forecasters have warned that energy bills are likely to remain high for years to come.

Mr Lewis said: “The energy market is broken — the limited competition there is hardly impacts what people pay. Even when there was competition, it failed many elderly or vulnerable people unable to take advantage of deals.

“That’s why I’ve long supported a social tariff. It’s why I was excited when the Government said it’d bring one in. Now I’m despairing at the deafening silence of inaction. This isn’t trivial, it’s a core well-being issue for millions. The Government needs to pull its bloody finger out.”

Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Without the introduction of more long-term targeted support, we’ll see the same crisis repeat every winter: struggling households unable to pay their energy bills, people unable to top up their pre-payment meter, record numbers coming to us for crisis support.

“A social tariff would protect millions of people from excessive energy bills and provide crucial certainty for people who need it most in a new era of high energy costs. The Government must deliver on its commitment to introduce better targeted support by April 2024.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “We recognise the cost-of-living challenges families are facing and spent £40 billion paying around half a typical household’s energy bill last winter.

“While energy prices are falling . . . we are also providing additional targeted support for the most vulnerable, with three million households expected to benefit from the £150 warm home discount and millions of vulnerable households will receive up to £900 in further cost of living payments. We continue to keep all options under review for those most in need.”

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