Over 11 million British households (42%) could reclaim almost £1.3 billion from suppliers for the energy they paid for but didn’t use this winter, according to new research from uSwitch.com. The data reveals that the average household in credit with their energy supplier could stand to reclaim £117, while 7% could reclaim more than £200.

The findings also show that customers are already worrying about soaring energy bills, even though many price hikes from the major suppliers are yet to hit consumers. Almost a third of customers (30%) admit they will struggle to pay increased energy bills, while more than one in five (22%) say increases of £100 or more will force them into debt. However, rather than reclaim money which is rightfully theirs, almost four in ten (38%) plan to keep their energy account in credit just to try and cope with price rises.

This winter, millions of consumers paying by Direct Debit used less energy than they paid for and it wasn’t just down to the weather. In fact, almost two-thirds (66%) of customers took some action to cut their winter energy bills, including turning down the thermostat (31%), turning down individual radiators (24%) or setting the heating to come on for less time every day (22%).

Consumers who are unsure about the status of their account after the winter should check their electricity and gas meters, submit up-to-date readings and find out if they are in credit. Many suppliers automatically refund credit balances once a year, but this may be subject to a minimum amount and refund policies vary between providers. Under Ofgem rules, customers are entitled to any credit on request, as long as up-to-date meter readings have been provided.

While nearly half (42%) of households are in credit, 14% of consumers – more than 3.7 million households – have emerged from winter in debt to their supplier. uSwitch.com is urging customers to submit regular meter readings throughout the year, to help guarantee accurate bills and avoid building up significant credit or debt.

Claire Osborne, uSwitch.com energy expert, says: “Consumers should submit an up-to-date meter reading now to find out if they’re owed cash from their energy supplier. Today’s research shows the importance of providing regular meter readings, otherwise energy bills can quickly become inaccurate, tipping people into credit or debt on their accounts. Under Ofgem rules, providers must repay any credit on request, so now is the time to read your meter, update your account and reclaim what you’re owed. Consumers who are building up credit to soften the blow of price hikes should instead consider reclaiming this money and switching to a cheaper deal. With an average credit refund of £117 and savings of over £350 by switching supplier, it could be a very effective way to control spiralling energy bills.

“With a range of suppliers raising prices over the past few months, any consumers who find themselves in debt should get in touch with their supplier right away to prevent the situation from getting any worse.”