I can pinpoint the exact moment I realised the energy market was in crisis.
It was 6pm on Thursday, September 16, 2021, and the popular comparison site Compare The Market had just frozen its energy switching service.
Following an ‘unprecedented’ rise in wholesale prices, scores of suppliers had pulled their cheap fixed deals almost overnight and there were only a handful left.
Spring shock: In February energy watchdog Ofgem revealed the price cap, which protects millions of people from rip-off bills, would rise by 54 pc from April 1
Smaller providers, unable to cope with the price shock, had already started to topple. Dozens more would later collapse.
It was a watershed moment for Money Mail.
For more than a decade, we have encouraged readers to switch energy deals regularly. With most providers routinely overcharging loyal customers, it was a sure-fire way to make a quick saving.
But in that moment, everything changed. Experts began predicting worrying bill hikes of hundreds of pounds.
And with no cheap deals to switch to, their best advice for households was to do nothing until prices stabilised. Yet, for most ordinary people, their moment of realisation is right now.
In February, energy watchdog Ofgem revealed the price cap, which protects millions of people from rip-off bills, would rise by 54 per cent from April 1. It means that from next month, the average household will pay nearly £2,000 a year for gas and electricity.
Until recently, these increases, which we all technically knew were coming, were theoretical. Suddenly, it now feels painfully real.
Bills containing personalised figures (rather than vague averages) are arriving thick and fast — causing widespread panic.
Companies should not be relying on charities and community groups to help their customers. They are the ones taking people’s money, so it’s high time they stepped up
Some of the numbers we’ve seen bandied around are simply not affordable, even for relatively comfortable families.
And that ’54 per cent rise’ Ofgem announced isn’t ringing true, with some customers saying their direct debits are doubling or even tripling.
Standing charges, which are the fixed daily fees that cover the cost of supplying our energy, have also jumped beyond recognition. And no one has a clue how to work out if their new bill is accurate or fair.
Charities and community groups are reporting record numbers of calls from desperate households who say they will not be able to afford to heat their homes. And this is only the beginning; experts are predicting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could push up bills to £4,000 a year.
It’s abundantly clear customers will not be able to afford this.
Ministers will have to intervene to top up the meagre support already announced. But in the meantime, energy giants need to do more to help customers navigate this crisis.
No one predicted a war, but firms have known for months that bills will rise steeply and inevitably cause chaos.
So where are the extra call centre staff? Where are the carefully written letters explaining in plain English how customers’ bills have been calculated?
Instead, some providers have seized the chance to push costly fixed deals or are making careless mistakes that cause extra stress.
Others, we are told, are even hiding their telephone numbers to avoid being inundated with calls.
Energy firms may not be able to bring down gas or oil prices, but they can do something about their pitiful service. Companies should not be relying on charities and community groups to help their customers.
They are the ones taking people’s money, so it’s high time they stepped up and provided households with some much-needed hand-holding — or, at least, a bill they can understand.
It pays to delay
Ahead of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share a top tip from our financially astute letters editor Tony Hazell.
Last month, he proudly informed me he had picked up a beautiful bouquet of mixed flowers for his wife from his local Tesco for just £5 — down from £25 — along with a half-price Valentine’s Day-themed supper. The catch? His poor wife had to wait until February 15 for her goodies.
But it goes to show that if you are willing to delay celebrating these special days, you can pick up brilliant bargains. Or, as Tony says: ‘It pays to save your love.’
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