More people with energy bill debts

Gas hob
Image caption Gas and electricity prices keep on rising

The number of people with energy debts has risen by a quarter for electricity and a fifth for gas, it has emerged.

The latest figures suggest 1.5m people are in debt in UK.

The figures, from spring 2011, include 850,000 electricity customers and 700,000 gas consumers.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry said: "Recent energy price rises in combination with other rising costs mean many household budgets are under huge pressure."

Campaign group Consumer Focus and charity Citizen's Advice say energy prices increased by 7% last winter and warn that further rises of 14% this autumn could push more people into debt.

Mike O'Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus, said: "A toxic cocktail of higher energy prices, rising bills for other essentials and falling incomes could push more people into debt with their energy company this winter."

Energy and Climate Change Minister Charles Hendry said: "Recent energy price rises in combination with other rising costs mean that many household budgets are under huge pressure, so it's more important than ever that consumers who are at risk of falling behind on their bills know what their rights are and what help is available."

Mr O'Connor said as bills continued to rise there was a fear that more people would be pushed into debt this winter.

Last year 100,000 people visited Citizen's Advice for help with their fuel bills. This year, in October alone, 12,500 have sought online advice on cutting their fuel bills from the Citizens Advice website.

Consumer Focus's research suggests:

  • One in six people plan to heat half the rooms in their house, or fewer, this winter.
  • One in 20 people will be heating only one or two rooms, rising to one in 10 in the poorest social group.
  • Only 55% of customers trust their supplier to help them if they get into debt.

Mr O'Connor said: 'We want people to know that help is out there. Your supplier has to help you if you have problems affording your bills and there are discounts and grants available to help you lower your costs.

"We'd urge people to get in touch with their energy firm as soon as they think they might have problems before debts start to spiral."

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizen's Advice Chief Executive, said: "Hikes in prices are making a tough time much harder for many.

"We urge people to check that they aren't missing out on any benefits or tax credits that could ease the pressure on their finances - and if they are in debt to get help immediately."

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