Almost 3 million UK homes will enter winter in debt to their energy supplier, according to the latest winter energy debt research from comparison and switching service Uswitch.com.
Some 2.8 million households say they owe £188m ($242.8m) to energy suppliers — an average debt of £68.20 each.
This is a rise of 22% in the number of households in debt to their supplier compared with this time last year — an extra 460,000 homes in the red.
With COVID-19 hitting many Brits financially, 9.6 million households are worried about how they are going to pay their bills this winter, according to Uswitch.
Some 14% of Brits are planning not to put their heating on even when it’s cold, 8% say they are going to try to spend more time out of the house to avoid heating costs and 1.9 million households say they are expecting to spend less on food in order to afford their energy bills.
Nearly four in 10 households (37%) are planning to wear more layers of clothing so they can avoid using the heating this winter, while three in ten (31%) are planning to switch more appliances off to save energy. More than a quarter of bill-payers (26%) plan to turn their thermostat down, the survey found.
Sarah Broomfield, energy expert at Uswitch.com, said: “Anyone who is worried about their debt should contact their energy supplier as soon as possible to set up a repayment plan.
“They can also ask for energy savings advice and check if they are eligible for free insulation grants, such as the newly launched Green Homes Grant, to help keep costs down longer term.”
The Green Homes Grant, which was announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in July’s budget will see the government cover at least two-thirds of the cost of energy-saving home improvements for over 600,000 homes.
WATCH: The £2bn Green Homes Grant scheme explained
The grant will cover green home improvements such as insulation of walls, floors and roofs and the installation of low-carbon heating, like heat pumps or solar thermal.
The measures could help families save up to £600 a year on their energy bills, according to the government.
Energy companies are also not proactively contacting all customers when they owe their supplier money. More than half (54%) of households in debt to their supplier said they had not been contacted about the debt. Just 22% were contacted by their energy company, who either helped set up a repayment plan or gave advice on how they could save energy.
“It’s incredibly worrying that so many more homes have found themselves in energy debt as we head towards the coldest time of the year,” said Broomfield.
“It’s clear that there’s room for energy companies to do more to make customers aware if they are falling behind on their bills, and lay out the options or help available for paying off that debt.”