SOARING energy prices threaten to push households on average incomes into fuel poverty within four years, experts warned yesterday.
The bleak forecast comes as figures reveal that more than a quarter of UK customers are already struggling to pay their energy bills after massive price rises this year.
The average annual gas and electricity bill has already hit £1,293 – about six per cent of a typical household income, compared with 3.3 per cent in 2004.
If prices continue to rise unchecked, by 2015 energy bills will swallow 10 per cent of average income, the official definition of fuel poverty.
Phil Levermore, managing director of not-for-profit energy supplier Ebico, warned: “We are within spitting distance of half the working population paying at least 10 per cent of their income or more to keep their homes warm and lit.
“More and more people will be facing utility bills with dread and having to cut out other expenditures, which is something the majority of the population has never had to worry about before.“This really is an absolutely dire situation and a result of what we have done over the last 10 years which is focus on sustainability without looking at affordability.”
Customers have seen their energy bills rise by an average of £223 this year, with an extra £2.24billion being paid out by consumers as a whole, according to uSwitch.com. Some 6.9 million households are now in fuel poverty with single working parents and pensioners the worst hit, said the price comparison website.
In two years annual bills could hit £1,500 – the “tipping point” at which 77 per cent of homes would be forced to ration energy, with a third turning off the heating. Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch, said: “We are not that far from the tipping point at which our energy bills are completely unaffordable.This is going to hit everybody very badly.” Mervyn Kohler, for Age UK, said: “A third of our elderly population is already in fuel poverty. If prices increase along these lines it will be deeply bad news. Elderly people need to keep warm and need to be able to afford other essentials.”
The Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “Rising energy prices are hitting many households hard. We are taking action to help consumers help themselves by shopping around, switching, and helping them to make their homes more energy efficient.
“We are also working with Ofgem to make sure the energy suppliers are playing fair.”