UK households owe their energy suppliers £267m
Although energy debt is down by a third compared with last year and the number of bill payers in arrears has also reduced by 610,000, the average household still owes £115.
It comes as more than a third of households (36 per cent) say they’re worried about paying their energy bills this winter.
The research from Uswitch found 4.6 million households won’t put the heating on even when it’s cold and 1.6 million households will spend less on food to pay for their gas and electricity.
The comparison site is calling for energy firms to do more to help customers who slip into the red after it found over half the households in arrears (56 per cent) said their supplier had not contacted them about the debt, nor offered advice about saving money or repaying the outstanding amount.
Almost six in ten were contemplating making sacrifices to clear their energy debt, including cutting back on food, Christmas presents, holidays, and socialising.
Richard Neudegg, head of Regulation at uSwitch, said: “Thankfully, the number of people in energy debt this year has fallen as more and more people take control of their energy bills and shop around for savings.
“But sadly the good news doesn’t extend to everyone. Over one and a half million households still say they will have to choose between heating and eating in order to pay their energy bills this winter. That’s a terrifying prospect for anyone to have to face.
“Energy companies need to do more to make customers aware if they’re falling behind, and what their options for paying off the debt are, before people have to start making drastic decisions which could affect their health and wellbeing.
“Likewise, more needs to be done to reform Government support so that it’s targeted at the most vulnerable households, where it will have the most benefit.
How to save money on your energy bills
Switching supplier is the best way to spend less, according to Uswitch, with savings of up to £477 a year on offer.
Credit meter customers need to clear any debt before switching provider unless it is less than 28 days old, in which case it will be added to the final bill.
If the debt cannot be paid off in one go, switching to the supplier’s cheapest deal will help bring costs down.
Prepayment meter customers in debt by less than £500 per fuel can usually switch provider, but should still organise a manageable repayment plan.
However, for households in the most difficult situations, switching alone won’t be enough to solve the problem.
Debt charities such as StepChange provide guidance for people experiencing financial difficulties.
There is also extra help available for vulnerable consumers through schemes like the Winter Fuel Payment, Cold Weather Payment, and Warm Home Discount.
Energy customers can use this tool to find out whether they could be eligible.