There has been a 13 per cent increase in the number of energy customers looking for extra time to pay their heating and power bills, according to the energy regulator, Ofgem.
In addition, the level of debt owed by households has increased by 20 per cent in the past year. The regulator blames the recession for the squeeze on family finances, but the price-comparison service uSwitch.com says that the reluctance of energy firms to lower their bills, despite reduced wholesale energy prices, has also played its part.
"Ofgem cannot afford to brush the cost of energy under the carpet," said Thomas Lyon, an energy expert at uSwitch.com. "Energy bills are substantially higher – £327 a year more – than they were at the beginning of 2008, even after suppliers cut their prices last year."
He added: "These debt numbers could get worse as we are in the middle of a bitter winter which could add an extra £60 on to our next quarterly bills because of the extra heating and energy we've all had to use."