Save, make, understand money

Household Bills

Two million struggling energy billpayers will self-disconnect this winter

Two million struggling energy billpayers will self-disconnect this winter
Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

More than two million people across Great Britain will disconnect from their gas and electricity this winter as they can’t afford to top-up prepayment meters, a charity predicts.

Last year, 1.7 million disconnected their supply at least once a month, with 800,000 going more than 24 hours without gas and electricity, according to Citizens Advice.

And this year, it’s already helping more people than ever who are struggling to pay energy bills, with the crisis set to reach boiling point in the coldest months of the year – just as some energy firms have been allowed to force fit prepayment meters again.

It said it is particularly worried about households with children under four, who are twice as likely to be in debt and be forced to disconnect from their gas and electricity than those without children.

Indeed, half of prepay users with children under four had disconnected in the past year because they couldn’t afford to top-up, compared to a quarter (23%) of people with no children.

Citizens Advice added that the new rules on force-fitting only provide absolute protection for households with children under two.

Record energy debt levels

The charity’s research also revealed 5.3 million people are already living in energy debt, putting them at risk of not only debt collection, but also going on to a pay-as-you-go meter they may struggle to top-up.

It said that existing energy bill support “is simply not going far enough”, adding that a long-term plan to tackle spiralling energy debt is now “essential”.

In one case heard by the charity, 59-year-old Muhammad struggled to top up his prepayment meter after losing his job in October 2023.

The immunocompromised East London resident needs to stay warm to help avoid life-threatening respiratory infections and to manage his arthritis.

He’s resorted to paying his energy via credit card, racking up £1,500 already. “I’d rather be in debt than make myself ill by being cold”, Muhammad said.

He added: “Not being able to afford to top-up my prepayment meter… and getting into debt because of it – I have sometimes felt like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I even stopped eating and taking my medication for a while because I felt so down, and ended up in hospital.”

The impact of the energy price crisis

Citizens Advice said with the removal of Government support schemes, average energy costs are as high as last winter for many households. The typical monthly energy bill is expected to come down by at least £20 in April but will still remain at “worrying levels”.

Energy debt has hit a record £2.9bn, with one in four people unable to afford their essential bills. Meanwhile, one in ten households have had to borrow money in the past six months to cover their energy bills.

For half of those in debt to their energy supplier, they’ve turned off the heating to help keep bills down. For others – three million – they’ve skipped meals or cut back on food spending. Some have pawned their possessions in the last year to save money so they can keep their meter topped up.

To stop more families falling into debt, Citizens Advice wants to see urgent reform of the Warm Home Discount which it said has failed to keep pace with rising prices. It wants to see the amount increased and made available to a wider range of households.

Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Our frontline advisers are helping more people than ever who can’t pay their energy bill. Record numbers are in debt to their supplier and millions with a prepayment meter are too often going without heating and hot meals because they can’t afford to top-up.

“The Government has not provided new energy bill support for those in need and has run out of time to develop the long-term approach it promised by April 2024. Without immediate action, we risk re-running this same crisis every winter.”