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As cold weather looms, concerns grow again about energy bills

FILE - A British Gas bill is displayed by a gas ring on a cooker in this photo illustration in London, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008.
FILE - A British Gas bill is displayed by a gas ring on a cooker in this photo illustration in London, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. Copyright Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP2008
Copyright Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP2008
By Joshua Askew
Published on Updated
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Around 40% of Brits are keeping their heating off, as NGOs issue stark warnings of a coming crisis.

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Worries are growing about a possible new energy bill crisis, as cold weather looms for Britain. 

"Winter is coming, and for millions of households, high energy bills will be an even bigger problem than last year," says the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.  

The campaign group's warning follows others that the UK's fuel crisis is "growing by the week". 

Some 55% of Britons have already put their heating on this year, while 42% have not, as per a YouGov poll published this week.  

"For millions of households, this winter will be even worse than the last, because while energy bills are dropping slightly, prices are still nearly double what they were and without any additional support," wrote the Warm this Winter campaign on its website. 

Energy bills in the UK remain "well above" the average before the energy crisis took hold in 2021 and the market remains volatile, according to regulator Ofgem. 

Soaring energy costs caused concern across Europe last year, with Russia's invasion sending oil and gas prices sky-high.

Most households in Britain received a £400 (€460) discount on their energy bills last winter via a government subsidy, but the scheme is not in place this winter.

Almost one in seven Brits now owe money to their energy provider, shooting up 11% compared to last year, revealed research by Uswtich, published this month. 

More than half of households are worried about how they will pay their bills when the cold begins to bite this winter, and 25% plan to not turn their heating on at all, it also found. 

Those who cannot put the heating on face dire consequences. 

Studies show there is a significant relationship between fuel poverty and poor mental health, including higher rates of depression and anxiety.

There were almost 5,000 excess winter deaths due to cold homes last winter, according to the UK government's Energy Security and Net Zero Committee. 

“Britain’s broken energy system continues to inflict misery on homes across the country with energy bills at the same levels as they were last winter, but with less support from the UK Government," said Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, in a statement sent to Euronews. 

"In fact, the wider cost of living crisis has seen people's ability to pay huge energy bills diminish." 

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"What's more we have seen the regulator increase daily standing charges which we pay in addition to unit costs and energy firms have also been able to make more profits. All of this hurts consumers while rewarding the energy firms," he continued. 

Citizens Advice found that in the first 6 months of 2023 at least 7.8 million people have had to borrow money to cover their energy bills. 

Meanwhile, 1.2 million children in Britain live in households which have had to go without heating, hot water and electricity. 

The charity has issued a warning that if the government doesn’t step in, these numbers will rise this winter.

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"While households suffer, the government sits on its hands and refuses to introduce tariff reforms which could bring down bills and help people stay warm this winter," added campaigner Francis.

“Indeed with the prime minister recently calling a halt to work to improve the energy efficiency of rented homes, many of Britain’s households will be trapped in cold damp homes for years to come.”

A spokesperson from Britain's Department for Energy Security and Net Zero recently told Reuters it was "supporting the most vulnerable this winter, by helping an estimated 3 million families with 150 pounds off energy bills through the Warm Home Discount."

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