More than 2 million people across the UK will be cut off from their gas and electricity this winter because they cannot afford to top up their prepayment meters, according to Citizens Advice.
The charity said it had made the estimate for what is expected to be its busiest winter ever for helping people who cannot afford to top up, after last year 1.7 million people were disconnected at least once a month. About 800,000 people went more than 24 hours without gas and electricity, unable to make a hot meal or take a warm shower, because they could not afford to top up.
In addition, more than 5 million people who are billed by their supplier are in debt, putting them at risk of debt collection or being forced to fit a prepay meter.
Dame Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Our frontline advisers are helping more people than ever who can’t pay their energy bill. Record numbers are in debt to their supplier and millions with a prepayment meter are too often going without heating and hot meals because they can’t afford to top up.”
Citizens Advice has predicted that the crisis will worsen in the coldest months of this year, just as some suppliers have been allowed to restart forcible installations of prepayment meters.
Energy suppliers were banned last year from force-fitting prepayment meters for elderly people and those with infant children after it was revealed that British Gas had been breaking into people’s homes to fit them at the height of the energy crisis.
“The government has not provided new energy bill support for those in need and has run out of time to develop the long-term approach it promised by April 2024. Without immediate action, we risk re-running this same crisis every winter,” Moriarty said.
Citizens Advice is particularly worried about households with children under four, who are twice as likely to be in debt and be unable to top up their prepay meter than those without children.
About half of prepay users with children under four had disconnected in the past year because they could not afford to top up, compared with almost a quarter of people with no children, the charity said.