Even before winter starts the number of UK households in energy debt has grown by more than 300,000 in the last year.
Latest figures from uSwitch show that 3 million households owe a total of £400 million to their energy suppliers.
The report by the comparison website claims that there have been 55 energy price increases by 32 different suppliers since January, adding £900 million to domestic bills.
Fuel poverty campaigners say the figures illustrate the ‘huge anxiety’ being faced by those already in debt before onset of winter, wondering whether they can afford to turn the heating on.
Peter Smith of National Energy Action said: “Millions of people are approaching this winter with dread and will face unmanageable situations.
“Those who are repaying large or growing energy debts often don’t turn the heating on at all, despite knowing it could badly damage their or their families’ health.”
Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack said: “No one should have to choose between putting food on the table or heating their home, and it is outrageous that despite knowing people are living with these choices the government hasn’t done anything to address the issue.”
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey commented: ‘‘It is a national scandal that rip-off energy price rises are increasing the number of people forced to live in fuel poverty.”
Consumers are normally expected to be in credit at this time of the year ahead of the increase in consumption in the coldest months of the year.
But the uSwitch research found 2.93 million are already in debt to their supplier, a 24% increase since October last year. They owe an average of £134 each.
There have been two years of energy price hikes as wholesale energy costs have been rising. Some of the Big Six suppliers have raised their tariffs twice this year.
uSwitch energy expert Rik Smith said: “With winter just around the corner, it’s important that households use this time to tackle rising bills. After so many price rises this year, a lot of people may have received a price rise notification over the summer but not switched to a cheaper deal.”
“The soaring number of households in debt to their energy supplier is a clear indication of the pressure people are under just to make ends meet.
“For anyone struggling with their energy bills and worrying about keeping warm, there is help available. They should speak to their supplier as soon as possible about repayment plans and other assistance on offer, and find out if they’re eligible for Government support with energy bills.”
Around half of those surveyed said they would be paying off the arrears in a lump sum or increasing their direct debit payments. Others said they hoped the level or debt would ‘go down naturally over time’ while the remainder either agreed a repayment plan with their supplier or asked to have a pre-payment meter fitted.
A spokesman for Energy UK said: “If customers are struggling, the most important thing is to get in touch with their energy supplier as soon as possible so they can provide help and support.”
uSwitch’s Rik Smith added: “Households across the country, whether in credit or debt, should check whether they could pay less for their gas and electricity.
“In just 10 minutes, people could reduce their energy bills by up to £482 a year — much more than the government’s planned energy price cap can deliver.”
Energy bills to be capped from January 31st – Read more here: