Energy rise could force families to choose between heating or eating

Fears have been raised of potential gas shortages

Rises in the energy cap could force families to choose between heating or eating - Credit: PA

Families struggling to make ends meet could be "pushed over the edge" by the increase in the energy price cap, charity representatives have warned. 

Households in Suffolk and north Essex could be forced to choose between eating and heating their homes in order to meet the cost of soaring energy bills after the Government announced yesterday that the price cap will rise by 54% from the beginning of April. 

The raised cap equates to approximately an extra £693 per year per household. 

In response, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged some mitigation measures, including that all 28 million households in Britain would get a £200 up-front rebate on their energy bills from October. 

The Government will provide the cash for this, but wants the money back so will hike bills by £40 per year over the next five years from 2023 to recoup its cash. 

Mr Sunak also promised a £150 council tax rebate for homes in bands A to D, something he said would cover around 80% of homes in England, along with £144 million funding to councils to support vulnerable people. 

Mike Smith, who runs Stowmarket and Area Foodbank, with the new container

Mike Smith, project manager for Stowmarket and Area Foodbank - Credit: Stowmarket and Area Foodbank

Mike Smith, project manager for Stowmarket and Area Foodbank, said: “Those families that are already on the edge and relying on benefits and Foodbanks are just stretched beyond measure already. 

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“It will affect those on the edge in a much bigger way. Any increase in costs will be quite traumatic.” 

He anticipated an increase in the numbers needing support from the foodbank, adding that since the summer the numbers needing support had doubled, mainly as a result of the Covid pandemic. 

As well as food, the foodbank also supplies families with duvets and electricity top-ups and he expected that extra help would need to be provided due to the changes in the cap. 

Rev Nic Stuchfield, chair of Suffolk Coastal Debt Centre, which helps people work their way out of debt, said as well as higher energy costs, the situation was being made worse by tax rises, including a planned hike in National Insurance to pay for health and social care. 

He added: “There are already undoubtedly people facing that choice between eating and heating and the number of people who are confronted with that choice can only increase because it is not obvious where the income to obviate that problem will come from. 

“If there is an answer then either the Government or the Opposition would be proposing it.” 

Simon Clifton, chief officer at Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk, said: “Across Suffolk Citizens Advice and other charities, we have seen increased demand from people who cannot cope as household incomes are squeezed and they are having to choose between heating and eating.  Record numbers of people are requesting food parcels and financial assistance to help to pay their household bills.   

Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the furlough scheme until September back in March

It has been reported that Rishi Sunak may not cut business rates this week - Credit: PA

“The government support announced on 3 February is welcomed but does not fully address the reduction in available income for households in Suffolk. 

“The Government has said it will reform the Warm Home Discount scheme. Households with high energy costs that receive certain welfare benefits will get a rebate of £150 per year on their energy bills.  As this rebate is linked to certain welfare benefits it is really important that people claim what they are entitled to.” 

He urged families in difficulty to contact Citizens Advice, which can provide support with planning a budget and advise on the options available for managing personal debt and maximising household incomes. 

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of energy regulator Ofgem, said: "We know this rise will be extremely worrying for many people, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet, and Ofgem will ensure energy companies support their customers in any way they can.

"The energy market has faced a huge challenge due to the unprecedented increase in global gas prices - a once in a 30-year event - and Ofgem's role as energy regulator is to ensure that, under the price cap, energy companies can only charge a fair price based on the true cost of supplying electricity and gas."

To contact Citizens Advice, visit https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk or call 0808 278 7868.