Millions face a ‘winter of despair’ without further cost of living support

October energy price cap rise will push 13 million people into the red, charity warns.

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New analysis from Citizens Advice shows 1 in 4 (24%) people in the UK simply won’t be able to afford to pay their energy bills in October based on current forecasts. This is double the number already in the red ahead of the price cap rise.

The figure could jump to 1 in 3 (34%) people in January when prices are predicted to soar above £4,200.

The charity’s projections take account the energy rebate and cost-of-living payments offered by the government, showing that spiralling costs are rapidly outstripping the support on offer.

Of those who won’t be able to pay in October, the majority (68%) have a household income of less than £30,000.

Some will bear the brunt of rising energy bills, with 3.2 million disabled people and 4.4 million families with children set to be unable to afford October’s hikes.

On average, those who can’t afford autumn’s predicted rise will end up almost £100-a-month in the red.

Citizens Advice says that future support must target those who need it most. Alongside further interventions from the government to help people with bills, it is calling for Ofgem to ensure that people are protected from the most serious consequences of falling into arrears. This includes a suspension of forced installations of prepayment meters.

“Squeezed middle”

The charity is also sounding the alarm that rising prices will drag more people into dire circumstances.

Many of its frontline advisers are already sharing reports of people needing crisis support, such as food bank referrals and fuel vouchers, who’ve never previously contacted Citizens Advice.

Its analysis shows that over half (53%) who’ll be in the red come October won’t receive the additional cost–of-living payments targeted to people on benefits, disabled people and low-income pensioners.

With future price rises rapidly outpacing the value of the energy rebate, it warns further action will be needed to stop more people falling into debt.

The charity’s latest data dashboard shows that despite a record-breaking heatwave, worries about paying energy bills are still front of mind for many it supports.

“Heartbreaking”

People who pay for their energy via prepayment meter are some of those struggling the most. In July, the charity saw record numbers of people who were unable to top up their prepayment meter – the fifth time this record has been broken this year

Meanwhile in July 2022, Citizens Advice’s web page on help with rising living costs was viewed over 70,000 times.

This is an increase of 40% on its previous record in March 2020 when the country went into the first national coronavirus lockdown.

Sally (name changed) is a single parent who lives in London with her three children. Despite working two jobs, she’s struggling to pay her bills and has built up arrears, including to her energy provider.

She’s extremely worried about the coming winter because her son has asthma and needs to keep warm, but she has no idea how she’ll cover the heating costs.

Sally says: “I’m having to rob Peter to pay Paul. I just can’t keep up and it’s getting worse with the bills going up.

“The kids don’t get any little treats any more and we often end up needing help from the food bank because there’s not enough to cover everything.

“I’m spending £60-a-week just to keep the prepayment meter topped up. The biggest worry is how bad it’ll be when the cold weather comes in.

“I’m worried about my son’s health – if we can’t keep the house warm it’ll make his asthma worse. It’s stressful everyday thinking about it.”

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Every single day at Citizens Advice we’re already helping people in the most heartbreaking circumstances, trying to scrape together enough to feed their kids and keep the lights on.

“This will get far, far worse unless the government acts.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that skyrocketing prices will swallow up all of the help that has been announced so far.

“Every day that goes by without a plan is another day without reassurance for people who desperately need it.

“We urgently need further support, otherwise we risk a winter of despair for millions.”

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