New figures show almost 900,000 homeowners owe their gas and electricity supplier money in unpaid energy bills, even before the seasonal thermostat adjustment kicks in.
Households that are behind on their bills – around 5 per cent of the UK population, according to Gocompare.com, owe an average of more than £120 each, despite these bills typically relating to the summer period of relatively low energy costs.
With the majority of homes expected to turn up the heating, switch on lights earlier, crank up the tumble dryer and take other energy-sapping action by 1 November, the collective total debt to energy providers of £103m and change is only set to increase, consumer groups warn.
Despite this barely one in ten of those struggling to make up the arrears has contacted their supplier to discuss the problem, the price comparison site estimates, with almost a fifth saying they ignore the debt, hoping it will sort itself out over time. others report being pressurised by their supplier to pay up and a fifth of consumers said their supplier was unsympathetic to their circumstances.
The research highlights the fact that few bill payers are aware of their options or rights if they are unable to cover their energy bills. Citizens Advice urges consumers to get in contact with their supplier immediately to work out a payment plan to cover the debts, under which suppliers must take into account how much a billpayer can afford to repay and their projected energy use going forward. Further information, including details of benefits and grants billpayers may be eligible for, is available from Citizens Advice here.
Meanwhile, a new funding scheme announced by the Government this week aims to reduce the heating costs for some urban households and businesses by up to 30 per cent by upgrading heating networks in towns and cities to supply low carbon and recycled heat.
As part of £230m initiative that draws on the experiences of a number of Scandinavian cities and will roll out over the next 5 years, the networks will mean cities in England and Wales can recycle the wasted heat they produce from places like factories, power stations and even the London Underground and pump it into homes and businesses to keep them warm, the Government has claimed.
“Heat networks can significantly improve the efficiency with which heat is provided to our towns and cities, as well as helping to develop local infrastructure and reduce carbon,” Minister of State for Energy, Baroness Neville-Rolfe has claimed.
“The new scheme will help us to develop viable reforms to make the most of the heat we produce and use it effectively to bring bills down for people across the country.”
Heat networks can also draw their energy from sources such as Combined Heat and Power plants, biomass boilers, or from heat from deep below the earth’s crust.
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