More than two million UK households are in arrears on their energy bills, with more than half a million falling behind since February, according to Citizens Advice.
The charity found that among households that have fallen behind on their bills, the average debts were £760 and £605 for electricity and gas respectively.
The report also reveals that around 16 per cent of people who use prepay energy meters have not been able to afford a top-up since March - totalling around 700,000 households.
The rise in energy arrears is thought to have been driven by a combination of factors, including record redundancies and a significant increase in energy costs as more people spend more time at home.
Acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, Alistair Cromwell, said, “We’re heading into the coldest months of the year and the full financial impacts of the pandemic are still to be felt.”
What should I do if I’m in arrears?
Earlier this year, energy suppliers made an agreement with watchdog Ofgem and the government to offer greater support to households struggling to pay their energy bills.
This was initially a voluntary agreement, though from 15 December, the requirement to offer additional support became mandatory under Ofgem’s licence conditions.
It means that energy suppliers will be required to offer households that are struggling a realistic debt repayment plan, as well as emergency credit for those on prepay meters.
Ofgem said the plans were introduced to give struggling households “some breathing space this winter” and to prevent poorer households from going without heating over payment concerns.
If you are in arrears, you’re advised to reach out to your energy suppliers as they are required to offer support. You might be able to switch suppliers, even if you’re in arrears, meaning you might be able to find better rates with another supplier.
You can find out more about switching suppliers while you’re in arrears on Ofgem’s website.
A spokesperson for Ofgem said there are “strong protections in place for consumers.”
They added, “We closely monitor and engage with energy suppliers and will take appropriate action over poor customer service where needed.”