Skip to main content

Energy bills support took too long to get to those most in need

16 June 2023

  • Approx. 1.7m people left waiting months for help due to Government’s ‘lack of bandwidth’ 
  • Government lacks urgency in addressing energy market failures 
  • PAC calls for update on plans to ensure affordable energy for winter 2023/24

In a report published today on Government’s energy bills support scheme, the Public Accounts Committee says it took too long to get support to some of those most in need. While support schemes were introduced quickly, the Government did not have the bandwidth to make sure support reached all groups in a timely fashion.

In February 2023, the Department estimated that support for households and businesses will cost £69 billion, of which £16 billion was paid between October and December 2022. 900,000 households only became eligible for the for domestic consumers’ Energy Bills Support Scheme Alternative Funding on 27 February 2023, nearly five months after consumers began receiving discounts on the main scheme. 836,000 households in Northern Ireland only began receiving support with their energy bills from the Energy Bills Support Scheme in January 2023, three months later than in Great Britain.

As of February 2023, a quarter of vouchers issued for the Energy Bills Support Scheme for two million households on traditional prepayments meters had still not yet been redeemed: Government should set out what it will do to improve this uptake. The Committee highlights unacceptable practices of suppliers forcing entry into vulnerable customers’ homes to install prepayment meters – a practice which has been banned by Ofgem for British Gas but only suspended in voluntary arrangements with other energy suppliers.

While the Government drew on lessons learnt through COVID support schemes to reduce the risk of fraud and error, DESNZ does not yet know how successful this has been. At an estimated total cost of £69 billion, even relatively low rates would lead to significant taxpayer losses. The Committee says Government should provide estimates of these fraud and error rates, with accompanying mitigations, within 6 months.

When the Committee heard evidence in February, household energy bills were expected to increase by another £775 in 2023/24. The Committee expects an update on plans to ensure energy affordability for next winter, including how it will fix the problems for those most in need, and has serious concerns on the Government’s lack of urgency in addressing the energy market failures that are leading to high energy bills for consumers. The Treasury and DESNZ have also not fully grasped the pressures the non-domestic sector will face after the Energy Bill Relief Scheme ended in March 2023, or the potential risk of insolvencies.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The surge in energy prices has caused serious difficulties and hardship for households across the UK. It is of course welcome to see Government moving quickly to put in place support for both households and businesses to keep the lights on. But many of those who most needed help were kept waiting longest for it. For some households, every day left without support presented impossible choices.

We need to see better understanding from Government on vulnerable customers’ circumstances so that help can be prioritised for those who need it most, and to deliver value for money in these extremely expensive schemes. Almost halfway through the year we have not yet seen plans to ensure energy affordability for the coming winter. As a matter of urgency Government must show it's clear not just on how households and businesses will be protected in any future price rises, but how to ensure resilience in the sector as a whole.”

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright