Hard-up households bombarded by soaring energy prices responded by turning down their heating and switching off lights to cut consumption by a quarter, figures showed yesterday.
And the great turn off is set to continue next month because thousands of families are facing higher energy bills when their special fixed tariffs from EDF, Scottish Power, E.ON and npower come to an end.
Average energy consumption in England and Wales fell by 24.7 per cent between 2005 and 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics.
In the East Midlands region – which had the highest household energy consumption for every year during the period – the fall in usage was even higher. It plunged by 29.4 per cent, from 39.0 megawatt hours (MWh) per household in 2005 to 27.5 MWh in 2011.
Over the seven years, South-west England had the lowest average household energy consumption apart from in 2005 and 2011, when Wales had the lowest.
Jo Ganly, an energy expert at the comparison website uSwitch, said: “These figures show the true impact of higher energy costs. People are choosing to go without, rather than risk racking up a huge bill.
“As the cost of energy has soared, so too have the number of households forced to ration their use.”
The utility industry, of course, took a different view of the figures.
In a statement, the Energy UK trade association said: “It is good news in the current climate that customers are using less energy. This fall in consumption shows how effective it is to insulate your home.”
But research by uSwitch suggests that cutting back, rather than improved energy efficiency, is the reason behind the fall in consumption.
It found that last winter almost seven in 10 households went without heating at some point to keep their energy costs down, while more than a third of people said cutting back on energy usage was affecting their quality of life or health. Almost nine in 10 people now think about the cost before switching on their heating, research from uSwitch found.
“These figures also demonstrate why it is so important for suppliers to hold fire on any price rises this year,” added Ms Ganly. “Consumers are reaching breaking point and another long winter could see many more tipped over the edge.”
The number of fixed-price deals coming to an end next month could see families finding themselves up to £280 worse off if they fail to take action and allow themselves to be switched to their provider’s standard tariff, warned the consumer website Moneysupermarket.
“With all the talk that energy prices could soon be heading upwards, households that do not act now could face a double bill shock before the end of the year,” said Lucy Darch, its head of energy.