Energy customers collectively owe suppliers £507 million, according to a new survey.
That’s £43 million more than in 2014, it claims.
It revealed almost four million householders – 260,000 more than last year – are in debt to their energy suppliers, with the average debt at £130 – up from £128 last year.
Almost a third of householders in debt admitted they owe their suppliers more now than they did a year ago, the survey found.
The figures come after Ofgem revealed the number of “forcibly installed” prepayment meters (PPMs) have risen in the last few years as a result of customer debt.
According to the survey, a third of consumers “choose to turn a blind eye” hoping the debts will go down over time while just one in five (19%) said they would not be able to pay it off in one lump sum.
Price comparison site uSwitch, which questioned more than 2,000 UK adults, is calling on suppliers to make “double-digit” tariff price cuts, “better reflecting the 25% reduction in wholesale gas and 18% cut in wholesale electricity costs in the 12-month period to winter 2015/16.
Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com said: “Pre-payment meters were forcibly installed in almost 100,000 homes last year due to debt, yet our figures suggest this could be just the tip of the iceberg. This is evidence that energy has become totally unaffordable for millions of homes. Disposable incomes may be on the up but people are still under relentless pressure just to cover the cost of essential bills.
“Energy suppliers must urgently pass on double-digit reductions to their customers – many of whom have admitted to going cold this winter in an attempt to keep their bills down.”
Trade body Energy UK added in response: “Help is readily available so anyone concerned they may be facing difficulty paying their bills should get in touch with their supplier straight away or call the free, confidential Home Heat Helpline where trained advisors can help callers understand the support on offer. Bad debt is, however, a serious problem for energy companies and creates additional costs for the vast majority of customers who pay their bills on time.”
ELN has contacted regulator Ofgem for a statement.