Over two million working families are struggling to pay their energy bills going into winter
Households face difficult decisions – over a quarter worry that they won’t be able to feed their family (26%) or afford Christmas presents (27%) if they turn the heating on
More than four in ten families (41%) plan to ration their energy use and risk going cold this winter in a bid to make bills more affordable
One in three working families (30%) aren’t aware of initiatives such as the Warm Home Discount that are available to help with energy bills
Uswitch calls on the government to do more to help the most vulnerable by extending the Warm Home Discount, and urges households to check whether switching supplier could save them hundreds of pounds on their energy bill.
More than two million working families are struggling to pay their energy bills this year, according to new data from Uswitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching site.
As forecasters predict Britain could be hit by the coldest winter in five years, nearly a quarter of working families (24%) are anxious about how much of their disposable income is spent on their energy bills. Alarmingly, more than a quarter of all families are worried they won’t be able to feed and clothe their family (26%) or afford Christmas presents (27%) if they turn the heating on.
Almost half of working families (46%) say they have struggled to pay their energy bills at some point, up from almost a third (32%) last year, highlighting the scale of the financial pressure facing the nation this winter. Young families (with adults aged between 18-34) are most likely to be having difficulties, with 24% saying they struggled to pay in the last 12 months.
Concerns about paying energy bills are slightly higher among those who work in the private sector (56%) compared to public sector workers (50%), while people in Wales worry the most about increasing gas and electricity costs (50%).
In a bid to make bills more affordable, more than four in 10 (41%) working families are planning on cutting their energy use during the winter. Rather than put the heating on, many families are resorting to more desperate measures to stay warm. Over a third (34%) haven’t put the heating on even though their house was cold, while 13% have gone without household essentials so they can afford to pay the energy bill. Almost one in ten (8%) admit to visiting friends and family’s homes to avoid putting their own heating on and 7% have even worn gloves and hats to bed.
In addition, the survey found differing attitudes between men and women about how best to stay warm and save money. Women (50%) are more likely to put more layers on than men (38%) to keep warm, and it’s the gents who are more likely to turn the heating on if they’re cold, with only 30% of men saying they would leave it off to save money, compared to 38% of women.
Families’ approach to making energy bills more bearable differs around the country. People in Yorkshire and the Humber seem to be most willing to endure the cold: families there are least likely to put the heating on even if their home needs warming up (45%), and one in five households (22%) resorts to leaving the oven door open to warm their homes. Families in the North West are most likely to give up other items to pay for their heating, with one in five (19%) families going without household essentials and one in ten (10%) forgoing food to be able to pay for the heating. And while the capital is traditionally warmer than in other parts of the country, families in London are still feeling the chill – they are the most likely to cut their overall energy use (52%), visit friends or family to avoid putting the heating on in their home (12%) and most likely to sleep together as a family to keep warm (8%).
Families’ concerns go beyond just paying the bills. Faced with the prospect of living in an unbearably cold house this winter, almost one fifth (18%) are also worried about the impact on their families’ health. Living in these conditions can have a long-lasting impact on wellbeing, with children who live in a cold home twice as likely to suffer from respiratory problems and slower developmental progress.
After a round of price hikes from suppliers this year, the average cost of a Standard Variable Tariff (SVT) has risen from £1,064 to £1,131. More than a quarter of working families (28%) say they are still languishing on these expensive SVTs, and over a fifth (22%) of families say they are concerned that if energy suppliers raise their prices any more, they won’t be able to afford to pay their bills. By switching to a cheaper fixed deal, energy customers can not only escape being hit by price rises, but also save up to £491.
Those who are struggling with their energy bills should first ensure they’re not paying too much for the energy they use and see how much they could save by switching supplier. It’s the quickest and easiest way to potentially save hundreds of pounds and bring peace of mind over the cold winter months. If families continue to find it difficult to pay however, it is also worth speaking to their supplier to discuss an affordable payment plan, and to see if they qualify for extra help from their energy company. Some suppliers are also offering free cavity wall and loft insulation, as well as grants towards new energy efficient boilers, which can help make homes more energy efficient and therefore cheaper to keep warm.
Alternatively, consumers can speak to Citizens Advice for guidance on managing bills. They can also check if they are eligible for schemes designed to protect vulnerable households, such as the Warm Home Discount or Winter Fuel Payments, by speaking to their supplier or visiting the government’s website. With the research finding that fewer than a third of working families (30%) are aware of these initiatives, Uswitch is calling on the Government to do more to raise awareness of these schemes, to make the Warm Home Discount accessible to more people and available through all suppliers, and to ensure eligible households are automatically matched to the scheme rather than having to apply themselves.
Claire Osborne, energy expert at Uswitch.com, says: “With forecasters predicting the coldest winter in years, it’s really worrying to see so many working families struggling to pay their energy bills. Millions are having to sacrifice their health, or even forego food, clothes and Christmas presents to keep warm this winter. No one should have to choose between going cold or going hungry.
“By taking action now, families are more likely to be able to keep warm and avoid some very difficult choices – they absolutely should not have to feel like they have nowhere to turn. The quickest and easiest step most households can take is to make sure they’re not paying too much and see if there is a better energy deal on offer, saving up to £491 by switching. They should also check if schemes designed to protect vulnerable households apply to them, and speak to their energy company if they need to discuss their payment plan.”
Uswitch’s advice for saving money on your energy bills this winter:
Switch it up: by simply switching to a better deal you could save up to £491
Government schemes: the Government runs a number of schemes which provide a discount on household energy bills, dependent on a number of criteria such as the bill payers age, household income, and whether they are on certain benefits. More information can be found on the GOV.UK website
Energy efficiency offers: several energy suppliers offer grants and advice to help make homes more energy efficient, meaning they are cheaper to keep warm. Some suppliers are even offering free insulation, dependent on the type of property. More information is available in our guide to energy efficiency grants.
Help with energy bills: You can find out how to get help paying your bills in our Uswitch guide, while many energy suppliers also offer support to vulnerable customers in other ways. For example, E.On provides benefit entitlement checks and access to hardship funds for customers whom it identifies as potentially vulnerable. British Gas runs a programme to support customers with Dementia and offers those requiring extra support the opportunity to join its Priority Services Register. Scottish Power runs a hardship fund to help customers who may have difficulties paying their bills. First Utility can arrange payment plans for customers who are struggling to make their payments and are not eligible for the Warm Home Discount and put them in contact with Step Change, a debt charity. nPower’s Macmillan Fund caps energy bills for customers living with cancer and struggling with their energy bills. Ovo runs a fund to help its customers are behind on their energy payments and need help getting out of debt.
Read your meter: Uswitch research found more than a fifth of households don’t submit regular energy meter readings to their supplier, risking inaccurate bills. Once they provided a reading, two thirds of Brits found that they were owed £161 on average
Bleed your radiators: this releases any gas caught inside them, making them run more efficiently. You can follow our step-by-step guide here.
Switch off the tech: leaving televisions and games consoles on permanent standby costs £45-£80 a year and we waste nearly £29m per year in this country by leaving our phone chargers switched on even though we’re not charging our phones
Turn it down: around 90% of a washing machines energy expenditure is spent on heating the water, so the lower the temperature, the more money you save.
Find out how you could save over £1,000 a year with Uswitchhere.
Research was carried out by Opinium between 7th and 9th November 2017 among 2,011 UK parents with at least one child under the age of 18 and at least on parent working per household.
When asked ‘Have you ever struggled to pay your energy bills?’, 19% of respondents said ‘Yes – within the last year’, 13% of respondents said ‘Yes – 2-3 years ago’, 5% of respondents said, ‘Yes - 3-5 years ago’, 9% of respondents said ‘Yes – over 5 years ago’. Net: Yes = 46%
There are 11.9 million working households in the UK: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/workingandworklessho 19% of 11.9 = 2,278,100 Uswitch research from last year found that 32% of 11.8 million working households were struggling to pay their energy bills. When asked ‘Have you ever struggled to pay your energy bills?’, 24% of 18-34-year olds said, ‘Yes – within the last year’
When asked ‘How far do you agree or disagree with the following statements?’, 26% of respondents answered, ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ to ‘I’m worried I won’t be able to feed and clothe my family if we turn the heating on’. 27% of respondents answered, ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ to ‘I’m worried we won’t be able to afford Christmas presents if we turn the heating on’.
When asked ‘Are you planning on cutting your energy use, so you can afford to pay your bills?’, 41% of respondents said ‘Yes’
When asked ‘Which of the following schemes are you aware of to help people pay their energy bills?’, 30% of respondents said ‘I’m not aware of any schemes to help people pay their energy bills’
When asked ‘Which of the following thoughts, if any, do you have / agree with in relation to energy costs?’, 24% of respondents said, ‘I worry about how much my disposable income is used up by my energy bills’, 22% of respondents said, ‘If energy suppliers raise prices any more I worry I won’t be able to afford to pay my bills’, 50% of respondents in Wales said, ‘I’m worried about increasing energy costs’, 18% of respondents said ‘I’m worried about the impact of being cold on my families health’.
When asked ‘Do you worry about paying your energy bills?’, 56% of respondents working in the private sector answered ‘Yes, all the time’ or ‘yes, sometimes’. 50% of respondents working in the public sector answered ‘Yes, all the time’ or ‘yes, sometimes’.
When asked ‘Which of the following, if any, have you done in order to help with heating bills?’, 34% of respondents said ‘Not put the heating on even though my house was cold’, 13% of respondents said ‘Gone without other households essentials so I could afford to pay my heating bill’, 8% of respondents said ‘Visited friend and family’s homes to avoid putting the heating on’, 7% of respondents said ‘worn gloves and hats to bed to keep warm’.
When asked ‘Which of the following, if any, have you done in order to help with heating bills?’, 45% of respondents in Yorkshire and Humber said, ‘Not put the heating on even though my house was cold’ and 22% of respondents in Yorkshire and Humber said, ‘Left oven door open to warm house’. These were the highest results out of the regions surveyed. 19% of respondents in the North West said, ‘Gone without other household essentials so I could afford to pay my heating bill’ and 10% of respondents in the North West said, ‘Skipped meals to pay for the heating’. These were the highest results out of the regions surveyed. 12% of respondents in London said, ‘Visited friends and family’s homes to avoid putting the heating on’ and 8% of respondents in London said, ‘Slept together as a family to keep warm’. These were the highest results out of the regions surveyed.
When asked ‘Which of the following, if any, have you done in order to help with heating bills?’, 38% of men and 50% of women answered, ‘Put more clothes on / made my children wear more clothes to avoid putting the heating on’; 30% of men and 38% of women answered ‘Not put the heating on even though the house was cold.’
Source: National Children’s Bureau stated in its ‘Fuel Poverty; what it means for young parents and their families’ report: https://www.ncb.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/staff/FINAL%20-%20ncb_fuel_poverty_report.pdf
Source: Uswitch.com. Data correct as at 28 November 2017. More information available on request.
When asked ‘What type of energy tariff are you on?’, 28% of respondents said, ‘Standard Variable Tariff’. Official data from Ofgem from October 2017 suggests that overall, 59% of households are on SVTs.
Between 1 April 2017 and 30 September 2017, at least 10% of people who switched energy supplier for both gas & electricity with Uswitch saved £491 or more.
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