Nine out of ten households in the UK are set to ration their energy usage this winter, in the face of rising energy costs and falling temperatures, new research reveals.
According to the study, carried out by uSwitch.com, the expected freezing temperatures around the UK will not be enough to persuade people to turn up the thermostat, as 87% of people will limit their energy usage this winter.
This is the equivalent of 22 million homes in the UK, which illustrates another key finding of the research – that energy costs are now the top domestic concern for 90% of the country’s households.
Increased energy prices
Price hikes imposed by energy suppliers appear to be the main cause of rationing, with 79% of people now worried about being able to pay their winter heating bills as a result.
Despite energy suppliers cutting their prices by an average of 2.6% earlier this year, it seems that the expected hikes in the weeks ahead have led homeowners to reconsider their priorities, with some willing to forego outlay on healthcare just to meet the cost of gas and electricity bills.
In recent months, 92% of consumers reported that they have seen a fall in their disposable income as a result of the rising cost of energy, while price rises have left 18% of people with no disposable income whatsoever.
Consumers falling into debt
A key problem for consumers appears to be juggling energy bills with other household outgoings, with four in ten getting into debt simply to meet their minimum payments.
Currently, 22% of households are concerned about the debt they have been forced into in order to make ends meet, while 10% are in more than £2,500 worth of debt as a result of using credit card, loans and overdrafts to pay their bills.
The problem now appears to be even worse than last year, when an already significant 75% of consumers made the decision to ration energy to keep costs down.
Time for action
With this figure now rising to 87%, and more than one in seven people believing this action is compromising their quality of life, it is time for action, according to Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com.
She said that energy rationing in the home is akin to consumers playing ‘Russian roulette’ with their health – something that will only be exacerbated as energy suppliers continue to raise their prices.
“Government has to face up to the fact that we are on the brink of an affordability crisis. When the average household energy bill hits £1,500 a year, 36% of homes – almost four in ten – will be forced to turn their heating off completely,” she explained.
“We are only a small step away from this and every price hike takes us that little bit closer to the edge.”
Alternative means of cutting costs
Although incomes are being squeezed, Ms Robinson urged consumers not to put their wellbeing at risk and instead think of alternative means of cutting costs.
“I would urge consumers to make their money go further by making their homes energy efficient and making sure that they are paying the lowest price for the energy they do use,” she advised.
As there are now many deals offering either free or heavily discounted insulation, there are plenty of opportunities that households can take advantage of, while researching the best available tariff could save up to £300 a year.
“These are easy savings to make and could help households to keep their fuel bills manageable this winter,” she added.
Despite assurances from the government and Ofgem that energy suppliers will soon have to offer consumers their lowest tariffs, this winter looks set to be a long and cold one for many UK households.