Exclusive: Energy giants urge struggling customers to get in touch ahead of winter
The UK’s biggest energy firms have encouraged worried customers to make contact with them as soon possible, so that they can talk through potential ways to ease the burden of painful price hikes to their energy bills this winter.
EDF, EON, Octopus Energy, Scottish Power, Ovo Energy and British Gas owner Centrica told City A.M. they understood how concerned customers will be about rising living costs, and that many people could be left struggling to pay their bills this winter in the coldest months of the year, when demand is at its peak.
The six firms are home to over 30m customers combined, representing over 70 per cent of the market.
An EDF spokesperson said: “We strongly recommend customers to contact us if they are worried about paying for their bills. We have a comprehensive support package which ensures we are able to provide sustainable solutions tailored to individual needs.”
An EON spokesperson said: “We know these are difficult times for our customers and we’d urge anyone who is struggling to get in touch as there are ways we can help.”
An Octopus Energy spokesperson said: “If customers can’t pay their bills, we urge them to get in touch with their energy supplier.”
A ScottishPower spokesperson said: “If customers are struggling to pay their energy bills, they should contact their supplier as soon as possible so they can get the advice and support they need. Don’t store up issues, don’t suffer in silence, contact us – we can help.”
An OVO Energy spokesperson added: “We encourage anyone who is struggling to pay for their energy to get in touch and know that we’ve supported lots of people in similar situations and we can support you too.”
Meanwhile, British Gas owner Centrica has confirmed to City A.M. it is continuing its own “Stop the Silence” campaign, to encourage people to come forward and seek help with their energy debts.
This includes a series of pop-up advice services in local Post Office branches to give people access to face-to-face support from debt advisors.
Challenger suppliers have also encouraged customers to make contact now, ahead of winter,
So Energy, a renewables-only supplier, told City A.M. it was “increasingly concerned” about how high energy bills will affect customers this winter.
Suppliers pledge support for households, but calls for new support package grow
Earlier this year, the Government pledged a £15bn support package to households, offering up to £1,200 per year savings to the most vulnerable energy users.
This was based on expectations the cap would rise to £2,800 per year in line with warning made by Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley to a Westminster committee in May.
However, multiple forecasters – including BFY Group, Cornwall Insight, Investec and Auxilione – have since predicted much sharper ramp ups in the energy price cap when Ofgem announces the latest update in September.
Among the most alarming predictions, Auxilione has predicted the cap could spike to £4,400 per year in January, while Cornwall Insight has forecast that ultra-high energy bills will be baked into the market until at least 2024.
This predicted spike in the cost of living could condemn millions of Brits to fuel poverty and leave desperate households unable to pay for their energy usage during the coldest months of the year.
With Ofgem establishing the cap on a quarterly basis, the prospect of two hikes this winter amid elevated wholesale costs and supply shortages is also a mere formality.
The cap is already at an all-time high of £1,971 per year, while customers also face the additional burden of a £2.7bn clean-up bill from market carnage that saw nearly 30 suppliers collapse over the past 12 months.
There is also the expected £3bn cost for taxpayers to shoulder from the decline of Bulb Energy into de-facto nationalisation for nearly nine months.
Alongside pleas to get in touch, the energy firms have pointed to support packages for households struggling with bills.
For instance, EDF revealed it had committed an additional £5m this year to support to customers in payment difficulty, as well as bringing forward £20m spend on energy efficiency for those in fuel poverty.
Rival supplier EON explained it was providing cold weather payments and targeted support through its EON Energy Fund.
Centrica has also outlined its range of support for consumers this winter.
This includes the British Gas Energy Support Fund, through which thousands of British Gas customers have been provided with grants of between £250 and £750 to help towards their energy bills.
It also invested a further £2m to be put towards 20 new energy advice centres, to be supported by the British Gas Trust.
Ovo Energy offers customers payment plans, which can spread the cost of energy to make it more manageable.
Octopus Energy meanwhile, has introduced both support packages for consumers and programmes to help cut down energy use, such as its Winter Workout scheme.
However, it argued that ultimately, further support from the Government is essential to easing pressure on households.
Its spokesperson said: “We will do all we can to help our customers through this crisis but this is way too big an issue for any one company and we urge the government to announce more support for people this winter.”
So Energy also called on the Government to offer more support for households.
A spokesperson for the supplier said: “So Energy has been at the forefront of calling on the Government to provide more financial assistance since the beginning of the cost of living crisis, and whilst we have welcomed previous support packages, we continue to urge the Government to go further to protect vulnerable households.”
Price comparison site USwitch shared this outlook on the crisis.
Its director of regulation Richard Neudegg told City A.M.: “The scale of the affordability crisis coming in energy highlights that urgent measures are needed from the government to get everyone through this winter, while a long-term roadmap for how policymakers might solve the crisis is put in place.”
Meanwhile, Richard Lane, director of external affairs at debt charity StepChange, warned that time was “running out” to help vulnerable energy users.
He told City A.M.: “It is not too late to help those on low incomes to navigate this increasingly difficult period, but time is running out. A clear and ambitious set of measures to prevent millions from falling into fuel poverty and problem debt is needed, and fast.”
Last month, the charity teamed up with Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Trust, calling on Ofgem to urgently increase protections for people with energy arrears, as rising costs continue to hurt households.