Energy companies’ websites are grappling with a spate of traffic on “bleak Friday” as the biggest hike in gas and electricity prices in living memory comes into effect on the same day as a raft of planned hikes in taxes and household services.
Customers wanting to secure cheaper energy bills have been advised to submit meter readings online ahead of Friday’s increase in the cap on the average annual bill by 54% to £1,971, putting unprecedented pressure on supplier websites.
The meter reading page of British Gas, one of the UK’s largest utilities, showed an error message on Friday morning, while E.ON and EDF also struggled with outages.
Several proposed price hikes, from council tax and VAT on pints to broadband and phone bills, are contributing to the cost-of-living crisis, with inflation expected to hit a 40-year high later this year.
As snow, hail and snow fell across the UK during a week of falling temperatures, families and pensioners spoke of having to turn off the heat and disconnect broadband connections to afford soaring food costs.
The think tank Resolution Foundation said the number of English households experiencing “fuel stress” has doubled overnight, from 2.5 million to 5 million.
The Trades Union Congress called for an emergency budget to help working families who are at “breaking point” as Citizens Advice estimates about 5 million people will be unable to pay their energy bills from this month.
The TUC said the measures announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in last week’s spring statement were “woefully inadequate” as UK households faced the biggest drop in living standards since the 1950s.
“People shouldn’t be struggling to cover the basics, but millions of families have been stretched to the limit by rising bills and rising inflation,” said Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC. “This is a standard of living emergency. Rishi Sunak must come to parliament and submit an emergency budget. We need a decent package of economic support for families. Britain is facing its worst living standards crisis in generations. We need an emergency budget to cut energy bills and increase wages, universal credit and pensions.”
Energy bills will rise 10 times faster than wages this year, the TUC said, joining Labor in calling for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies’ billions in profits to pay for the package of proposed support measures.
“People don’t want a revolution, they want to know how to pay their energy bills,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said in an interview on Friday morning.
Citizens Advice warned that if the energy ceiling rises by the amount forecast in October, the number of people unable to pay their energy bills would rise to one in four in the UK, more than 14 million.
Experts have said the war in Ukraine could push annual bills to £3,000 at the next price cap decision.
“We understand that people are struggling with the rising cost of living – we cannot protect everyone from the global challenges we face, but we are putting billions of pounds back into the pockets of hard-working families across the UK,” according to a government said a spokesman. “We are taking action worth over £22 billion over the next financial year to help people with the cost of their energy bills and ensure people keep more of their money.”