29th October 2013
Millions of UK households are set to start rationing their energy use this winter in a bid to avoid being hit with soaring heating bills writes Philip Scott.
According to research from comparison site uSwitch, a staggering 83%, or 22m households anticipate they will be tightening their belts as looming price hikes from have made almost 80% of consumers more worried about their winter fuel bills.
The spate of price rises have added to consumer woes, making almost 78% of those surveyed more worried about their winter fuel bills this year. Such is the concern about affordability that energy costs are the top household worry for consumers, ahead of the rising cost of food, petrol prices and council tax.
Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch says: “When it comes to affordable energy the country is at crisis point. Consumers are being forced to turn down and switch off in an attempt to shield themselves from the impact of higher fuel bills. This winter we will be seeing even more going without adequate heating for fear of racking up a bill they cannot afford – this is the grim reality for many households in Britain today. The Government has got to get competition working as this is the only way we will get to see fairer pricing, better service and people getting better deals.”
Last winter, around 18m homes went without heating at some point to keep their energy costs down while more than a third, at 35% said that it had affected their quality of life or health. Now, with energy bills on the rise again, many more may be forced to go without adequate heat in order to afford their bills.
Worryingly, the average household bill following recent pricing announcements from Scottish & Southern Energy, British Gas and nPower, will soon hit £1,434 a year. This is just short of the £1,500 a year ‘tipping point’ at which 59% of households will be going without adequate heating and 36% will be forced shut off their heating altogether.
Just last week Scottish Power, become the fourth energy supplier to announce a price hike – 8.6% on average, which will see its typical dual fuel bill for both gas and electricity, for a standard cash or cheque customer rise by £112 to £1,480 a year from 6 December.
The findings paint a grim picture of the affordability of energy today. Not only are growing numbers being forced to compromise on their quality of life, health or well-being, but a staggering 94% of consumers – 2% more than last year – have seen a reduction in their disposable income due to the rising cost of energy. In addition 20% admitted they no longer have any disposable income left at all, while over a third at 35% blame the rising cost of energy for a dramatic reduction in their disposable income.
As a result of the escalating cost of living, many are being forced into debt with 40% turning to credit cards, overdrafts, loans and other forms of borrowing in order to pay their essential bills while, 13% have gone into debt by more than £2,500.
Robinson added: “With four major suppliers having already announced price hikes, consumers face a perfect storm. Political hot air and rhetoric won’t heat homes – families have to take action and give themselves a price freeze instead. Rather than resorting to drastic and potentially harmful measures, I would urge them to ‘future-proof’ their energy bills this winter by signing up to one of the many competitive fixed price energy tariffs that are on the market. These don’t just offer a competitive price today, but can protect from price hikes for anything up to four winters too.
“Energy efficiency is also a key weapon – making sure that your home is insulated, draught-proof and using as little energy as possible will automatically help reduce your bills. Those who need help understanding what energy efficiency measures to introduce, or with financing it, should look at the Government’s Green Deal. These steps could make the difference in keeping warm this winter.”
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(Source: uSwitch: Based on a medium user consuming 3,300 kWh of electricity and 16,500 kWh of gas on a standard dual fuel tariff, paying quarterly by cash or cheque, with bill sizes averaged across all regions)