Citizens Advice is helping record numbers of people with energy debts before winter has even begun – and the size of the debts people face is rising. Many people had to borrow money to pay their energy bills in the first half of 2023 and this is likely to increase over the coming months.
The charity is warning that its data suggests that millions are facing a winter as bad, or even worse, than last winter, unless the government acts on energy bills. Its research shows disabled people, single parents and low-income households earning less than £29k will be the hardest hit this winter.
Despite an estimated fall in the energy price cap, the average household can actually expect to pay slightly more in the coming winter than they did between January and March 2023 – if current forecasts hold.
Citizens Advice is calling on the government to do more to help people on the lowest incomes, such as providing additional support through the Warm Home Discount.
We can’t afford the bills now, let alone when it gets colder – Natasha’s story
Natasha lives with her husband and children. She is unable to work due to health problems. Her husband works part-time as he is Natasha’s main carer. The family have fallen into arrears with their gas and electric as they just do not have enough money coming in to cover their rent and essential bills.
Natasha said: “Our energy debt is now around £8,000. Even though I am home all day I try not to use too much gas and electricity as I know we can’t afford to pay the bills.
“Everything is just so expensive and it’s really hard for me and my family. Just thinking about the energy debts gives me anxiety. My husband no longer speaks with me about the bills as he does not want it to stress me out. But I know after he pays what he can towards bills we have nothing left.
“The bailiffs came to our home because of the gas and electric debt. They looked all around my home and said there was nothing of value to take, then left.
“I know the energy prices will go up again and that is worrying me a lot. Winter is going to be very hard for me and my family as we can’t afford the bills now, so definitely won’t be able to afford them when it gets colder. ”
Starting the winter in debt means there is a real risk of falling even further behind on energy. People have to pay back arrears on top of the costs of increasing energy use in the colder months, and find the funds to cover other essential bills.
Citizens Advice predicts that by the end of this year it will have seen 26% more people in need of help with energy debt compared to 2022. And the charity says the numbers seeking help for energy debt has more than doubled in four years.
Not only has the number of people in debt increased, but the value of the energy debt has also grown considerably. Ofgem recently estimated the total energy debt owed by consumers to be £2.25 billion.
Disabled people and families with young children, particularly single parents, are more likely to have very high levels of energy debt, and high monthly shortfalls too. Even households with an annual income of £29k are being stretched to meet increases in prices and will face choices such as choosing between heating or eating this winter.
If you are finding it hard to get by and don’t know what to do, you may be able to find solutions on our national information website www.citizensadvice.org.uk.
Our local website www.canosn.org.uk has information about how we can help if you need more support. You can talk to us face to face online or call our Adviceline on 0808 278 7906. All our support is free.
As a charity, donations enable us to help more people. If you wish to make a donation you can find details of how to do this on our website, or cheques can be sent to Citizens Advice North Oxfordshire, 26 Cornhill, Banbury OX16 5NG.