Pandemic pushes ‘600,000 more energy customers into debt’

The average amount owed by those who haven’t come to a repayment arrangement with their supplier stands at £760 for electricity and £605 for gas

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to 600,000 more energy customers unable to pay their energy bills since February, pushing a total of 2.1 million households in debt.

That’s according to new research from Citizens Advice, which found the size of debts is “significant”, with the average amount owed by those who haven’t come to a repayment arrangement with their supplier standing at £760 for electricity and £605 for gas.

It also revealed a quarter of all energy customers – up to seven million households – worry they won’t be able to pay their bills this winter.

The research found around 59% of people in financial difficulty who spoke of their supplier said the support options they were offered were helpful, while 16% disagreed.

In addition, it revealed consumers are struggling to contact their supplier, with one in seven people saying they couldn’t get through, call waiting times for two-thirds of suppliers have increased and on average, suppliers are failing to respond to a third of customer emails within two working days.

Citizens Advice is urging suppliers, Ofgem and the government to maintain and expand existing support and customer service measures.

Alistair Cromwell, Acting Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said: “The government and the energy industry have put in place significant measures to support people’s incomes and help those struggling with their bills. This has made a real difference to many but this effort will be undermined if people can’t get through to their suppliers and access that support in the first place.

“We’re heading into the coldest months of the year and the full financial impacts of the pandemic are still to be felt. Maintaining high customer service standards is more critical than ever in order to make sure energy customers who get into difficulty can access the support they need.”

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