It’s already been an extremely tough couple of years for many of us. And now millions of people in the UK are having to cope with a huge rise in living costs.
Food and tax costs are going up, but the biggest increase is in energy bills. On 1 April, a typical energy bill went up by about £700. The price will be changed again in October, when experts think it could be as much as £3000 a year for the average household.
It’s not just the gas we’re using that’s costing more. Energy companies are also putting up their fees, called ‘standing charges’. This will cost about £77 extra for the average household. Even customers who have switched off their heating and electricity to save money will be charged this fee.
Why are energy bills rising?
The energy ‘watchdog’ Ofgem sets the highest price that we can be made to pay for our energy. Because the global cost of gas is so high, that now has to go up.
There are a few different reasons for this. One is that countries around the world are buying more gas than before, as they lift their Covid restrictions. There’s also a bigger trend of countries preferring to use gas instead of coal.
The terrible war in Ukraine also means that some countries like the UK and US will stop buying gas from Russia. And Russia might stop selling gas to Europe.
This will make gas from the countries filling that gap more valuable and expensive. The UK only gets a small amount of its gas from Russia, but if the price of gas goes up in one place, it goes up almost everywhere.
How is it affecting people?
Because of these price rises and other tax increases, a typical working household is set to be £1,100 worse off in 2022-23. Single adults on low incomes will be some of the worst hit. They could spend almost half of their income on energy.
Child Poverty Action Group reports that “millions are already choosing between heating and eating. Families don’t have anything left to cut back on.”
Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) have shared some upsetting stories of people struggling. Rachael in Yorkshire, for example, needs to find £259 to charge her electric wheelchair. And a “73 year old woman had to sit in the dark for three days because she had no money for the meter”.
National Energy Action’s CEO told MPs about people “self disconnecting from gas and electricity” to save money. He added, “This is a disaster and inevitably, will lead to more needless winter deaths.”
If you or somebody you know are worried about being able to keep your home warm or your electricity on, talk to Citizens Advice for support. They can help you access support you are entitled to, manage any overdue bills you need to pay, and find local support services.
You might be able to get some grants and benefits, for example:
- Council tax rebates. You may be able to get £150 back from your council tax.
- Warm Homes Discount. You might be able to get £140 off your electricity bill or a £140 voucher for your meter if you’re on a low income. People getting the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit can also get it.
- Winter Fuel Payment. If you were born on or before 26 September 1955 you can usually claim some money every year to help you pay for heating in the winter.
- Cold weather payments. People on benefits and pensions can get an extra payment when the weather gets very cold.
- If you need help to feed yourself or your family, the Trussell Trust can help you find a food bank, or you can call them for advice.
What needs to change?
The government has offered some small steps that will help a few people use less gas in the longer term. But there’s not enough help for people who are struggling now.
Citizens Advice is calling for more action to help people in crisis, including:
- An increase in benefits to match the rising costs of living.
- Higher ‘Winter homes Payments’, and for more people.
- More direct payments to low income households.
- Help from the government to cut how much energy we use in our homes.
Just like with the energy price crisis, climate change will hurt the poorest people first and worst. People with the least money are least able to recover if their house is flooded, or burnt down in a wildfire. Fortunately, both crises have the same long-term solution: get the UK off gas for good.
Some politicians and newspapers are saying we should just dig up more gas. But new gas supplies can take decades to get up and running. And because gas is being moved all around the planet, a little more gas from the UK won’t change the international prices we pay. So drilling for new gas won’t help anyone struggling with their bills right now, but it will make the climate crisis worse.
For the future, the answer to our gas prices going up and down (and mostly up) is not to dig up more, but to get off gas completely. Some are arguing for nuclear power, but this creates risks and wastes that are difficult to manage, and also won’t be ready for many years.
Instead, we need the government to put much more money into cheap, clean, safe power from the wind and the sun. We also need help to make our homes keep the heat in better. And when our gas boilers need replacing, we should be able to get an electric boiler, also known as a ‘heat pump’.
The government has taken some small steps in the right direction. It has:
- Set a target to stop any new gas boilers being added to houses from 2035, and to install heat pumps instead.
- Put a small amount of money towards making sure our houses keep the heat in.
- Cut some taxes to help people with spare cash make their homes greener, like adding draft exclusion and solar panels.
These measures will cut bills and help us fight climate change, but the government needs to think much bigger if it wants to keep its promises.
How to help other people who are struggling
If you’re in a position to help people hit hardest by this crisis, there are things you can do.
- National Energy Action is asking you to donate your council tax rebate, to help them offer advice and support to more people.
- Sign and share National Energy Action‘s energy for all petition. The petition calls for everyone to have enough energy to cover basic heating, cooking, and lighting.
- Make a donation, volunteer or fundraise for your local Food Bank.