‘It’s worse than under Thatcher’: energy price rises pile pressure on UK

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Households in the UK will see their energy bills rise by 54% from 1 April, with prices expected to rise again in six months. Despite the chancellor’s spring statement offering a fuel duty cut and changes to the national insurance threshold, people are still struggling with the cost of living.

We spoke to six people about their experiences and what spiralling heating costs will mean for them.

‘If it weren’t for my mum, I’d have to go to the food banks’

View image in fullscreenLee Craven.

In Hull, Lee Craven, a 48-year-old support worker at a mental health charity, is running out of money at least a week before his salary is paid each month. “I often work [overtime] just to make ends meet,” he said. His electricity bill has doubled since this time last year, and that’s before the price hike comes into effect on Friday. “I think it’s going to be pretty bad,” he says. “You get to the point where you dread the post coming through the door.”

By the last week of each month, Craven has run out of cash and has to get help from his parents. “I’ve got nothing – literally no money whatsoever,” he said. “I know where my money goes, it’s just going on bills. I’m not entitled to universal credit so I’m having to cut back on things like food. It’s really hard going. If it weren’t for my mum, I’d have to go to the food banks.”

Last month, he disconnected his broadband, and now uses his mobile phone as a hotspot. “It’s a luxury that I just can’t afford,” he said, adding that subscriptions to music streaming platforms have also had to go.

Craven used to shop at Sainsbury’s, before switching to cheaper supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi a couple of months ago because of the rising cost of food and essentials. “I used to like Sainsbury’s for the quality,” he said. “I was always budgeting my food quite well and would spend about £25 a week – now it’s about £35.”

‘I’ve been able to reduce my expenditure by eating less’

In Northampton, Will, who is retired, has seen around a 50% increase in his electricity usage since his landlord moved supplier recently after the previous one went bankruptcy. “It used to cost approximately £5 a week but it’s now gone up to about £10 depending on how cold it is,” said the 72-year-old.

Will, who has been living in shared accommodation for three years, uses a prepayment meter, which he “pops coins into” when he needs to. “I probably use the electricity the most in the household. I had major heart surgery last June and the cold really affects me, and because I’ve not been well I’m virtually at home all day.”

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His monthly income is about £1,300, which includes his state pension and financial assistance he receives for housing and council tax. He believes he would be eligible for a warm home discount but because his landlord receives the electricity bill he doesn’t think he can apply for it.

“It’s been tough. I’m having difficulty walking so at least I’ve been able to reduce my expenditure by not going out, but I’ve also been eating less. If the electricity price goes up again it will become quite a concern. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

‘I’ve told them if they try to take the payment I’ll cancel my direct debit’

View image in fullscreenJohn Ellis has faced a series of rises in his monthly payments to E.ON for gas and electricity. Photograph: True Images/Alamy

John Ellis, 31, from Suffolk, is “livid” that his monthly payment for gas and electricity will jump to £255.76 from the start of April. He said he received correspondence from E.ON in December to say it would increase to £186 from January, and it agreed he would pay £95 instead. However, in February he was told it would increase again.

“I’m in a bit of a rubbish situation,” said Ellis, who works as an account manager and lives with a housemate in a two-bedroom house. “I have about £600 outstanding on my energy account that I didn’t know about, and because E.ON never increased my direct debit I’ve been accumulating debt over time.

“I’m in a somewhat fortunate position in that my energy bills cost slightly less than 20% of my monthly income at the moment but if it goes up in April that would be unacceptable.”

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He had been with E.ON on a variable rate for a few years and was recently moved in February to its sister brand E.ON Next, which claims to supply 100% renewable energy. “It’s a bit bonkers,” he added. “We’re still discussing the April payment but I’ve told them if they try to take it I’ll cancel my direct debit. There’s no way I’m paying that much money – it’s just wrong.”

‘I haven’t been able to pay for prescriptions’

Until she got a new job in further education a few weeks ago, Marie*, a 54-year-old from Liverpool, was living extremely frugally. The rising cost of living has meant she has at times been unable to afford prescriptions. “I get the lower rate of PIP [personal independence payment benefit], which I have to use for taxis to work as arthritis stops me walking the distance to the bus stop without pain. I need inhalers and co-codamol for pain and some months I haven’t been able to immediately pay for prescriptions,” she said.

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View image in fullscreenMarie says she needs inhalers and prescriptions have sometimes been unaffordable. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Although she has always worked “low-wage jobs” and is good at food budgeting, Marie began to worry when she noticed the prices creeping up, even in supermarkets “like Lidl and Aldi”. “Panic sets in and it’s scary. You go round the supermarket and you’re totting up the cost in your head,” she said, explaining that she often has to put back items at the checkout. “You’d just make sure you have toilet paper, milk and bread.” The only clothes she buys are socks and tights. “I wear shoes until they fall apart.”

She said the spiralling cost of living has pushed people in her area to the brink. “I live in a poor area, and people just look like the fight’s gone out of them. It was bad enough before, but people just look so much more miserable now. I grew up under Thatcher – we thought it was bad then but things are so much worse now. We didn’t have food banks during the 1980s – now they are essential.”

‘There is no wriggle room right now’

From next month, Christine Nebbett, a 46-year-old from Norfolk, will see her electricity bill shoot up from about £95 to £195 a month. The amount she pays for broadband will increase too. “I got an email saying my contract has ended and it’s going to go from something like £23 to £40,” she said, explaining she chose the provider “because it was really quite low for broadband – my son needs it as well because he’s at university”.

“I don’t know what to do on the internet,” she said, wondering if it is “feasible” to cut it off. “That means having to apply for jobs just on a phone, and my son, when he comes back from university, still needs to study. There is no wriggle room now.”

Rising costs of living have left Nebbett, who works in retail but is on statutory sick pay and universal credit, with few areas to make cuts to. “I’ve already got rid of anything extraneous,” she said. “I’ve got no Netflix, Amazon, or Spotify.”

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Nebbett said she is considering taking her car, which cost her about £500 four years ago, off the road. “It’s more expensive for road tax, fuel and oil because it’s an old car,” she said, but this would be difficult as she lives in a rural location with poor transport links. Although she avoids driving as far as possible, she said: “There is always something extra and unanticipated.” She recently had to use fuel to drive to get a PCR test. The unexpected trip meant she later could not afford to drive to the supermarket.

‘I can’t get the council tax rebate even though I live in a house worth less than £300,000’

View image in fullscreenMary Strode.

“I’m going to get very cold,” said 70-year-old Mary Strode from Powys, Wales.

The retired overseas development worker said she was not eligible for any government help because her house was in council tax band E. She uses oil central heating and does not pay for her electricity via direct debit.

“I can’t get the council tax rebate even though I live in a house worth less than £300,000 with two bedrooms and a box room,” she said. “Apart from the holiday lets, most of the people in our village are of modest means. Council tax might work well in cities but not outside the south-east of England.”

Strode, who lives on her own, said her income was less than £20,000 per annum and with no fuel price cap on heating oil, she’s going to struggle. “Heating oil is the big expense for me,” she said. “I pay about £80 a month but I’ve cut down a lot. When I last filled up in January it was 72.5p a litre but now it’s around 99p plus VAT. I still have half a tank left so I hope it lasts as I can’t afford to fill it up again.”

She pays for her electricity as and when she uses it because she likes “the feeling of having things under control” rather than paying by direct debit. “It helps me try to economise,” she added. “Another thing I think I’m going to do is let a room out for the Hay-on-Wye festival – anything to help pay for the bills.”

*Some names have been changed.

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