British households have piled up record debts of almost £3 billion ($3.8 billion) with electricity and gas suppliers, national energy regulator Ofgem has revealed.
The total amount owed to energy suppliers has soared by £400 million since mid-October, according to a report released on Friday. It is now at its highest ever level due to a combination of sustained high wholesale energy prices and wider cost of living pressures, which have led to unpaid energy bills, the regulator said.
As part of a plan to protect the energy market and consumers from the growing risk of ‘bad debt’, Ofgem announced a one-off price cap adjustment of £16 (equivalent to around £1.33 a month) to be paid between April 2024 and March 2025. The regulator defended the move as necessary to ensure suppliers were “resilient” and able to help customers who needed support.
“We know that cost of living pressure is hitting people hard and this is evident in the increase in energy debt reaching record levels,” said Tim Jarvis, the director general for markets at Ofgem.
“The record level of debt in the system means we must take action to make sure suppliers can recover their reasonable costs, so the market remains resilient, and suppliers are offering consumers support in managing their debts,” Jarvis added.
Ofgem’s plans, however, sparked criticism from some campaigners claiming that energy companies continue making fortunes while consumers are struggling with their bills.
“This outrageous tax on energy consumers is simply not fair,” Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, was quoted as saying by The Guardian. “Energy suppliers have posted billions in profits already this year while millions of people struggle in cold damp homes. The record levels of energy debt are due to Britain’s broken energy system, not the fault of the hard-pressed public,” Francis argued.
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