2.3 million households (8%) owe £267 million to energy suppliers before winter begins – averaging £115 each according to new research by Uswitch

Averaging £115 per household, the debt level is £126 million less (32%) than last year, while the number of bill payers in arrears has also reduced by 610,000 (21%). Record switching rates, greater savings being made through switching, and people moving away from poor value Standard Variable Tariffs (which are more expensive this year, on average), have all contributed to the reduction in the level of debt.

But behind the welcome headlines, harsh realities continue to affect many households. Well over a third (36%) are worried about paying their energy bills this winter. To keep costs down four in ten people (41%) will wear extra layers, 30% will turn the thermostat down, and a staggering 4.6 million households (17%) won’t put the heating on even when it’s cold.  1.6 million households say they will be forced to spend less on food to pay for their energy use.

Uswitch says Energy companies could be doing more to help when customers slip into the red. Over half the households in arrears (56%) said their supplier had not contacted them about the debt, nor offered advice about saving money or repaying the outstanding amount.

Almost six in ten (56%) were contemplating making sacrifices to clear their energy debt, including cutting back on food, Christmas presents, holidays, and socialising. Prepayment meter customers in debt by less than £500 per fuel can usually switch provider, but should still organise a manageable repayment plan.

Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com, said “Thankfully, the number of people in energy debt this year has fallen as more and more people take control of their energy bills and shop around for savings.”

“But sadly the good news doesn’t extend to everyone. Over one and a half million households still say they will have to choose between heating and eating in order to pay their energy bills this winter. That’s a terrifying prospect for anyone to have to face.”

“Energy companies need to do more to make customers aware if they’re falling behind, and what their options for paying off the debt are before people have to start making drastic decisions which could affect their health and wellbeing.”

“Likewise, more needs to be done to reform Government support so that it’s targeted at the most vulnerable households, where it will have the most benefit.”