Soaring energy bills leave 8.6 million struggling to pay

MoneyExpert.com advises consumers to think before they switch.

Nearly one in five people ñ around 8.6 million adults – are struggling to pay their gas and electricity bills following recent price increases from suppliers, new research from comparison website MoneyExpert.com shows*.

And itís the less well-off who are suffering the most with as many as a quarter of poorer households saying they are finding it difficult. The price rises are prompting a mass switchover with as many 6.4 million people planning to move gas or electricity suppliers in the next three months, the research shows.

But MoneyExpert.com is warning them to wait as they risk moving to a supplier which then imposes another increase. So far this year major suppliers have announced 11 price rises with British Gas, EDF and ScottishPower the latest to move.

Last month British Gas, for instance, imposed increases of 12.4% for gas and 9.4% for electricity from September taking its average annual dual fuel bill to more than £1,000.

Analysis by MoneyExpert.com** shows that during 2004/05 the poorest 10% of households ñ 2.44 million homes – used around 5.7% of their annual expenditure to pay for gas and electricity bills compared with 3.1% for other households. Its research now reveals that 27% of less well-off households ñ around 1.2 million people ñ are finding it difficult to pay their bills.

Sean Gardner, Chief Executive of MoneyExpert.com, said: ìThe rise in energy bills is really hitting home. People may not notice the effects now with the warm weather but will really feel the pinch when the cold weather returns. ìCustomers have to find ways to save money as the recent interest rate rise is adding more pressure to household bills with mortgage costs also increasing. There is a serious squeeze on spending.

ìThe advice to consumers has to be to switch suppliers but people need to be careful. So far British Gas, EDF and ScottishPower have announced rises but others are certain to follow. Customers need to be careful when choosing a new supplier that they donít simply find themselves having to move again within a few months.

” Research shows around 4.8 million people plan to switch both gas and electricity suppliers over the next three months while around 600,000 plan to move gas and another 969,000 aim to switch electricity supplier. The vast majority of people ñ around 38 million or 81% – plan to do nothing despite the rises. The table below shows the numbers planning to move across the country.

REGION NUMBERS PLANNING TO SWITCH GAS, ELECTRICITY OR BOTH IN THE NEXT THREE MONTHS PERCENTAGE PLANNING TO SWITCH GAS, ELECTRICITY OR BOTH IN THE NEXT THREE MONTHS

  • Scotland 593,677 16%
  • North 745,458 10%
  • Yorkshire & Humberside 599,600 15%
  • East Midlands & Anglia 562,504 11%
  • West Midlands 689,766 17%
  • South West & Wales 886,946 14%
  • London 1.13 million 20%
  • South East 1.2 million 13%

Across the country 19% of people say they are finding it difficult to pay gas and electricity bills following the recent rises with customers in the East Midlands and Anglia and Northern Ireland the most at risk.

Just 14% of well-off households are finding it difficult compared with 25% of poorer people. MoneyExpert.com advises those who have never switched gas and electricity suppliers that they can cut their bills by around 11% on average and believes some customers can save up to £200 off their bills. Compare energy prices now

Simple steps to take include switching to paying your bills by monthly direct debit rather than by quarterly cheque. Others should consider fixed deals on offer from some suppliers. However it stresses that consumers should research the market before making a decision and should not rush to switch but instead wait to see what other suppliers do before moving. Before making the decision to move customers should analyse their bills from the past year.

Its service allows customers to compare gas and electricity prices from all suppliers by price, features and levels of service satisfaction. The service is 100% impartial and completely free to use and can be found at www.moneyexpert.com.

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