Press release:

1 in 3 working families struggle to pay their energy bills

  • One in three working families – the equivalent of almost four million households – struggle to pay their energy bills[1]
  • Half of working families are planning to cut their energy use this winter so they can afford to pay their bills[2]
  • A third (29%) of families don’t put their heating on even when their house is cold[3]
  • Two thirds (66%) are worried cutting their energy use over winter will have a negative effect on their family’s health[4]
  • Nearly two thirds (61%) say their children don’t focus as well on their homework when their house is cold[5]
  • 37% of families are unaware of schemes which offer support to those in financial difficulty[6]
  • uSwitch.com urges the Government to implement recent CMA remedies and give them a chance to work, as well as extend the Warm Home Discount scheme.

One in three working families (32%) are struggling to pay their energy bills, according to new data from uSwitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching site[1]. A staggering four million homes are already feeling financial pressure ahead of a season which could see major energy suppliers raising their prices for the first time in almost three years.

The research reveals that half of working families (49%) are planning to cut their energy use this winter, just so that they can afford to pay their bills[2] and, alarmingly, a third  (29%) don’t put their heating on even when their house is too cold[3].

This is despite two thirds (66%) being worried about the negative effect that rationing energy may have on their family’s health[4]. Over half of these families (54%) are also concerned that cutting their energy use will negatively affect their child’s performance at school and nearly two thirds (61%) say their children don’t focus as well on their homework when their house is cold[5].

The health implications for children living in cold homes are well documented, more than doubling their chances of suffering respiratory problems like asthma, affecting their emotional well-being and putting them at risk of developing multiple mental health problems in the long-term[7].

Unsurprisingly, single parent families are feeling the pinch most significantly – 43% say their house is too cold for their families but they can’t afford to put the heating on[8].

Faced with the pressure of rising costs, many families are resorting to drastic measures to keep warm. One in ten (10%) have lived in one room in their house, a fifth (19%) have left the oven door open to heat their home, and over 1.5 million families (13%) have gone without household essentials to pay for their bills[9].

To help families access the most competitive tariffs and force suppliers to offer lower prices, remedies from the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) energy market investigation must be implemented quickly, according to uSwitch.com. The CMA’s final package, published only this June, must be given a proper chance to work – with key success criteria put in place to evaluate whether they are helping consumers move away from expensive standard variable tariffs, to drive down bills and improve competition.

In addition, the Government should consider extending the Warm Home Discount scheme, which offers vital financial support to many vulnerable consumers, but is only available through larger energy providers.

Claire Osborne, energy expert at uSwitch.com, says: “It’s appalling that even families in work are struggling to pay their energy bills – and we haven’t even seen any major price hikes for nearly three years. The biggest worry is that, with signs that prices are on the up, many more families could feel forced to keep the heating down in what’s set to be a very cold winter. When you consider that millions of households are already in debt to their energy supplier, it’s a stark warning that consumers feel they have no other option than to ration their energy.

“The CMA spent two years closely examining the energy market and so it’s vital that the Government gives the final package, only published in June, the proper chance to work. The CMA remedies should help more customers move away from expensive standard variable tariffs, lower bills and improve competition in the market. Suppliers must play their part by doing all they can to help their customers move to their best deal.

“In addition, the Warm Home Discount scheme should be extended to cover all energy suppliers to help more vulnerable customers reduce their bills.

“Anyone who is concerned about how they’ll pay their energy bill should talk to their supplier now and find out what help is available. Switching providers can also help reduce bills by an average of £403 a year, so shopping around for a better deal should be one of the first things that families try.”

— ends —

Notes to editors

Research was conducted online by Opinium between 20th and 26th October 2016, among 2,000 UK adults in working families.

 

  1. When asked ‘Have you ever struggled to pay your energy bills?’, 32% of respondents said ‘yes’. There are 11.8 million working households in the UK (source: ONS). 32% of 11.8 million = 3,776,000.
  2. When asked ‘Are you planning on cutting your energy use so you can afford to pay / pay less for your energy bills?’, 49% of respondents said ‘yes’.
  3. When asked ‘Which of the following, if any, have you done in order to help with heating bills?, 29% of respondents said ‘Not put the heating on, even though their house was too cold’.
  4. 66% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘Cutting my household energy use this winter could negatively affect my family’s health’.
  5. 61% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘My children don’t focus as well on their schoolwork when our home is cold’, and 54% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘Cutting my household energy use this winter could negatively affect my child’s performance at school’.
  6. 37% of respondents said they were unaware of any of the following schemes to help people pay their energy bills: Winter Fuel Payments, Cold Weather Payments, Warm Home Discount scheme or charitable grants to help energy debts.
  7. Source: Friends of the Earth
  8. 43% of single parent households (either working full-time or part-time) said they have not put the heating on, even though their house was too cold, to help with energy bills.
  9. 10% of respondents said they have lived in one room in the house to help with energy bills, 19% of respondents said they have left the oven door open to warm the house, and 13% of respondents said they have gone without other household essentials so they could afford to pay the heating bill.
  10. Energy UK’s electricity switching figures for October 2016: http://www.energy-uk.org.uk/publication.html?task=file.download&id=5929
  11. https://www.uswitch.com/media-centre/2016/11/consumers-head-into-winter-292-million-in-debt-to-energy-suppliers/
  12. Between 1 March 2016 and 31 May 2016, people who switched energy supplier for both gas & electricity with uSwitch saved an average of £403.

About us

Launched in September 2000, uSwitch is an online and telephone price comparison and switching service, helping consumers get a better deal on gas, electricity, broadband, TV services, mobiles and personal finance products including mortgages, credit cards, car and home insurance. Last year we saved UK consumers over £278 million on their energy bills alone.

Customers can sign up to an account that automatically monitors the energy market and notifies them when they can move to a cheaper tariff, while broadband customers can conduct a speed test to find out how fast their broadband is and identify the best deal for their postcode.

The multi award-winning 'Switching Made Simple' app allows customers to compare energy, broadband, credit card, mobile and SIM-only deals – and uSwitch also has a UK contact centre manned by energy and broadband experts. Customers can post their latest energy bills to FREEPOST USWITCH to receive a free call back and be guided through the comparison process, or they can email customerservices@uswitch.com with their postcode and usage details.

uSwitch is owned by ZPG, which operates some of the UK’s most trusted digital brands that help empower smarter property and household decisions including Zoopla, Money, PrimeLocation and SmartNewHomes.

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