According to a new report released by the Public Accounts Committee today (16 June), approximately 1.7 million people were left waiting for months to receive help with their energy bills due to a “lack of bandwidth” from the government.
Taking aim at the government, the Public Accounts Committee, a select committee of the British House of Commons, stated that it took too long to get support to some of the UK’s most vulnerable households.
As the energy crisis took a stronger grip on the UK throughout the winter months of 2022/23, the report stated that “900,000 households only became eligible for the for domestic consumers’ Energy Bills Support Scheme Alternative Funding on 27 February 2023, nearly five months after consumers began receiving discounts on the main scheme”. This delayed response caused many to receive little-to-no support on their energy bills as they skyrocketed.
Alongside this, the report outlined that as of February 2023, a quarter of vouchers issued for the Energy Bills Support Scheme for two million households on traditional prepayments meters had still not yet been redeemed.
When the wholesale gas market started to become even more volatile in early 2022, many households and businesses were at the mercy of the market with the cost of energy in the UK skyrocketing. This was primarily a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which then saw a reduction in Russian imported fossil fuels.
In a bid to protect UK consumers, the Energy Price Guarantee was introduced from October 2022 to provide a support rate discount on domestic gas and electricity. This was later included in the Energy Prices Bill, alongside the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, a similar initiative designed to reduce energy costs for businesses.
Current± reported last week that nearly £40 billion had been spent mitigating the impact of rising energy bills on households and businesses throughout winter. And with no clear end in sight for the end of the energy crisis, despite decreasing energy bills, the Public Accounts Committee has called for an update on plans to ensure affordable energy for the winter of 2023/24.
This includes a call for the Government to provide clarity on how it will fix the problems for those most in need with the committee stating it “has serious concerns” on the government’s lack of urgency in addressing the energy market failures that are leading to high energy bills for consumers.
“The surge in energy prices has caused serious difficulties and hardship for households across the UK. It is of course welcome to see government moving quickly to put in place support for both households and businesses to keep the lights on. But many of those who most needed help were kept waiting longest for it. For some households, every day left without support presented impossible choices,” said Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee.
“We need to see better understanding from government on vulnerable customers’ circumstances so that help can be prioritised for those who need it most, and to deliver value for money in these extremely expensive schemes. Almost halfway through the year we have not yet seen plans to ensure energy affordability for the coming winter.
“As a matter of urgency government must show it’s clear not just on how households and businesses will be protected in any future price rises, but how to ensure resilience in the sector as a whole.”