Rishi Sunak to announce windfall tax on energy firms

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Rishi Sunak is expected to unveil controversial plans for a windfall tax on energy companies later on Thursday as ministers seek to move on from the Partygate scandal and deal with the “huge challenge” of spiralling energy and food costs.

The chancellor will make a statement to the Commons at 11.30am, laying out measures to ease the pain of rising household bills, which Treasury sources have not denied will include scrapping the requirement to repay a previously announced £200 discount on energy bills for all households, or increasing the level of the grant.

Steve Barclay, No 10’s chief of staff and a Conservative MP, said households were braced for a “significant challenge” this autumn when the energy price cap rises, further compounding the already “huge hike” in costs over the past few months.

He stressed there would be more “targeted action” to help the least well-off, following a warning from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that injecting too much more money risked making inflation “much more permanent” in the economy.

Among the measures expected to be unveiled by Sunak are an increase in the warm home discount scheme, which is worth £150 to 3 million low-income households. This grant could rise to as much as £500.

The government could also bring forward a planned increase in benefits that had been expected next year or offer a council tax rebate.

The Times reported that the previously announced £200 loan on energy bills would be replaced with a grant that will not have to be paid back, with the discount possibly increasing to as much as £400.

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After the head of Ofgem, the energy regulator, said it was on course to raise the cap on energy bills by a further £800 in October, the government faced significant pressure to swiftly announce further financial support for struggling households.

The measures will be funded in part by a windfall tax on energy firms, after a fierce battle within the government over the policy, which has been bitterly opposed by some cabinet ministers including the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng. The measure could be extended to all electricity generators and may include exemptions for investments.

A senior party official admitted the decision had caused splits in the government. “The arguments have been tested rigorously both within the Treasury and within government and there is high pressure to make sure that the gain is worth the pain and that it does not jeopardise investment,” they said.

“We do not want to introduce random taxes that make the environment unpredictable for global companies that can go anywhere. We have to set the bar high and do something genuinely impactful and put in massive safeguards to ensure we do not jeopardise investment.”

In an interview with BBC Breakfast, Barclay avoided questions about why the government would support a windfall tax after ministers and Tory MPs spent weeks rubbishing Labour’s proposal, but said they had been wary of risking “inward investment” by offshore energy companies.

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He said the government was considering how to fund extra financial support by “looking at the balance, how much is done through debt, how much is done through revenue raising” while also recognising “we do need a long-term energy strategy, and one that attracts inward investment”.

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Oil and gas producers have benefited from rocketing global energy prices during Russia’s war in Ukraine. Higher gas prices have pushed up wholesale prices across the electricity market, including for some producers of renewable and nuclear power.

The Treasury has reportedly analysed whether the tax should be expanded beyond North Sea operators such as BP and Shell to generators including renewable energy operators such as windfarms.

It is estimated the plan could tax more than £10bn of excess profits, although City analysts said that figure was far beyond their estimates. Labour’s plan for a one-off levy applied only to North Sea oil and gas producers would raise an estimated £2bn.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “We understand that people are struggling with rising prices, which is why we’ve provided £22bn of support to date. The chancellor was clear that as the situation evolves, so will our response, with the most vulnerable being his number one priority.”

Economists say living costs for Britain’s poorest households are expected to increase by almost twice the rate of those for the richest when energy bills rise this autumn.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the fresh surge in gas and electricity bills expected in October could lead to average annual inflation rates of as high as 14% for the poorest 10th of households.

Economist Paul Johnson, head of the IFS, said the support should be as targeted as possible. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I do think we need to be careful … Putting tens of billions into the economy at a time of high inflation could stoke additional demand and make the inflation much more permanent in the economy.”

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The energy crisis was thrown into sharp focus this week when Jonathan Brearley, the chief executive of the energy regulator Ofgem, indicated the energy price cap would increase by a further £830 to nearly £2,800 in October.

The increase is likely to hit poorer families disproportionately because a larger share of their total spending goes on energy. The IFS said the poorest 10th of households typically spend almost three times as much of their budgets on gas and electricity as the richest 10th.

This means low-income homes are experiencing a much higher rate of inflation than the wealthy. The IFS predicts that while inflation for those on the breadline will reach 14% this autumn, the richest 10th could see rates of about 8%. Across all households, inflation is likely to reach 10%, the highest rate since 1982.

In a sign of the growing pressure on households, figures on Wednesday showed average petrol prices hit a new record high of 170.4p a litre, up from 129p a litre a year ago. Diesel rose to 181.4p, up from 131.3p a year earlier.

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