What should you do if you can’t pay your energy bills? Will the government’s plans actually make a difference? We sat down with a money expert to get a better understanding of the winter ahead
The cost of living crisis continues to escalate, and as we approach a winter of yet more price rises the future for many households is looking uncertain. It’s vital to understand how it could impact your finances and, crucially, to find out what support is available to help navigate these difficult times. We spoke to finance journalist and former online editor of Moneyfacts.co.uk, Leanne Macardle, to answer the questions that matter.
What should I do if I can’t pay my energy bills?
The first thing you should do is contact your supplier to see if you can find a solution. They may help you set up a payment plan, or you could try to negotiate a better deal. The key thing is to tell them that you’re struggling — fail to do so and they could disconnect you. They may even be able to offer grants to help pay off your debt, so it’s important to contact them before it gets too much.
Be sure to see what additional support is available, too. Everyone will receive a £400 energy discount from the government, paid in instalments over six months, and you should already have had the £150 council tax rebate. But you may be entitled to additional help, such as the £650 cost of living payment available to those on means-tested benefits. You can find out what else could be available on the gov.uk website.
How will the cost of living crisis impact my mortgage?
Rising inflation and consecutive base rate rises mean that mortgage interest rates have ramped up in recent months, which could mean your mortgage payments will rise accordingly — but only if you’re on a tracker or standard variable rate. If you’re on a fixed term, you shouldn’t see any difference to your monthly repayments, so you may have some respite while your deal is still running.
Why is this causing the price of food and other everyday items to rise as well?
The cost of living crisis is impacting all aspects of our lives, and that includes the price of food and other everyday items. It’s being driven by a combination of factors, including the after-effects of the pandemic, which served to disrupt supply chains and cause labour shortages; the legacy of Brexit, which has led to higher import costs and the value of the pound falling; and the Ukraine/Russia war, which has exacerbated supply problems and led to further increases in food and energy costs.
Will Prime Minister Liz Truss’s proposed plan to freeze energy bills make a difference?
Hopefully, yes. The energy price cap had been expected to rise to £3,500 in October, before hitting £4,500 in early 2023 and even breaching £5,000 thereafter, so Liz Truss’s promise to freeze bills at an average of £2,500 a year will certainly provide some welcome relief. It’s hoped that it will go some way to curbing inflation as well.
However, given that the scheme will be entirely funded by government borrowing and therefore paid for by the taxpayer, there are already concerns over how the £150bn sum needed to fund it will be paid back. Average annual bills also stood at just under £1,300 last winter, so the freeze still means households need to find an average of £1,200 more than they did a year ago.
Could the crisis get worse?
Potentially, though the latest drop in inflation and the energy price freeze could provide some respite. August’s figures show that inflation is currently running at 9.9%, down from 10.1% in July, marking the first drop since September last year as fuel costs took a welcome dip. However, food prices are still rising, the base rate is still expected to be hiked further and energy costs are still far higher than they were a year ago, even with the price cap, so it could be a difficult winter for many. As such, it’s hoped that the emergency Budget expected this week (23 September) could offer further help for struggling households.