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Chancellor Must Act On Energy Bills, Energy Select Committee Chair Says

Energy bills are set to increase by a further five per cent in January. (Alamy)

4 min read

The chair of the energy security and net zero select committee Angus MacNeil has criticised the absence of energy bill support measures in Chancellor's Autumn Statement and has called on Jeremy Hunt to act.

MacNeil, who sits as an independent MP, told PoliticsHome he did not believe the government was "really alive to the problem" of the dangerous combination of continued high energy bills combined with individuals having accrued high energy debt. 

Last month, energy regulator Ofgem warned energy debt had reached a record £2.6bn. On Thursday they announced the energy price cap would rise by 5 per cent in January to £1,928 per year, around a £100 increase on the previous quarter. 

National Energy Action (NEA) estimates that around 6.3m households in the UK are currently living in fuel poverty.

"Quite clearly, the Chancellor is going to have to do something in that space to try and help people," said MacNeil.

"It might not be something spoken about at the dinner tables of the wealthy Chancellor and the billionaire Prime Minister, but it's certainly talked about at many other people's dinner tables – who are very concerned about whether they will be able to put anything on the dinner table to eat, or if they're going to choose to heat their house."

Last winter the government capped energy bills at £2,000 through its energy price guarantee (EPG) after it was warned Ofgem's price cap was expected to exceed £4,000 in January 2023, alongside a universal £500 rebate and targeted cost of living payments for those on low incomes.

However, a similar scheme was not announced in last week's Autumn Statement despite bills remaining elevated. Prior to the beginning of the energy crisis in late 2021, Ofgem's energy price cap was substantially lower at £1,277. 

Exclusive polling for PoliticsHome by Savanta earlier this month also found energy bills are a significant source of anxiety for people – with 32 per cent of respondents reporting they were "very concerned" about not being able to afford the energy bills, with 44 per cent reporting they were "somewhat concerned". 68 per cent of respondents said the government is not doing enough to help people with bills this winter, with just 25 per cent believing it was. 

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, told PoliticsHome the Chancellor was '"living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks that people will be able to get through this winter without more support for their energy bills".

"With energy bills due to climb even higher from 1 January and customers suffering in record levels of energy debt, we needed the Chancellor to introduce an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and a Help To Repay scheme for those in energy debt," Francis said. 

"Instead what we saw were measures designed to create short-term headlines, but will go nowhere near addressing the higher costs of living which are now with people forever.

“The measures announced are way short of the £73 a month off energy bills that struggling households say they need this winter.

"Failure to avert the cold homes crisis will lead to pressure on the NHS, a mental health catastrophe and additional winter deaths.”

NEA chief executive Adam Scorer said the Autumn Statement offered "zero direct support for households struggling with sky-high energy bills" and debt.

"In the Autumn Statement, there was zero direct support for households struggling with sky-high energy bills... from January those bills will be even higher as typical households will be paying £100 more – just after Christmas and as the weather will get even colder," Scorer said.

"For those already saddled with paying back the £2.6bn of household energy debt or self-disconnecting from energy to avoid that debt it's devastating and this increase will mean millions will struggle in cold and unsafe homes."

A Labour source told PoliticsHome that calls for energy support demonstrated why ramping up the insulation of homes was important, and said that any additional or expected profits from the windfall tax on energy companies should be used for additional energy support. 

"It's absolutely incredible that they're not doing every single thing they can to insulate homes in this country, that is the best way to get energy bills down for good," they said.  

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “Energy prices are much lower than they were last winter, but we recognise people are still facing cost of living challenges.

“This winter, we will continue to support the most vulnerable, with three million households expected to benefit from the £150 Warm Home Discount, £900 for those on means-tested benefits, and an extra £150 for disabled people.”

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