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Blog Post 20 January 2023 Updated 29 January 2024

Your questions about the energy crisis, answered by the experts

If you’ve got questions about your energy bills, you’re not alone.

Over the past year we’ve seen record gas prices, changes to government support and a wider cost of living crisis. This has left many people worried about being able to afford their energy bills.

We’ve teamed up with Citizens Advice to answer your top questions about the energy crisis.

1. Why are energy prices so high? I know gas prices went up last year, but why does this affect electricity prices?

Abigail Ward, policy and communications officer at Energy Saving Trust, says:

As countries began to recover from the pandemic, demand for gas increased and couldn’t be met because of a supply shortage. This caused gas prices to go up in 2021. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine then threatened supplies, and this drove up the price of gas even more.

Electricity prices are also high because they’re directly linked to gas prices. Although about 40% of our electricity comes from renewables, this is combined mostly with gas-generated electricity transmitted and distributed across our electricity network. The way the energy system is set up ties the price of electricity to gas even though there are more renewables on the grid.

2. Why has my supplier put the standing charge up too?

Abigail Ward, policy and communications officer at Energy Saving Trust, says:

The standing charge is a fixed daily amount you must pay your energy supplier, no matter how much energy you use.

Standing charges aren’t covered by the Energy Price Guarantee, and Ofgem sets the limit of what suppliers can charge. This can vary depending on the type of energy you use, your supplier, tariff and where you live.

Energy suppliers use standing charges to cover costs like maintaining the energy networks, connecting your home to the energy network and carrying out meter readings. Standing charges have recently gone up to cover the cost of several energy suppliers collapsing in 2021. These costs include the administrative costs of switching customers to new suppliers.

We’ve heard that some suppliers are reported to be increasing charges above what’s needed, but Ofgem has said suppliers can set their own standing charge and tariff rates as long as bills don’t go over the average total amount.

3. There’s confusion. Are prices going up or down? The news says gas prices are falling. Does this mean my bills will come down too?

Abigail Ward, policy and communications officer at Energy Saving Trust, says:

It’s true that wholesale gas prices have been falling sharply recently. This is partly because a milder winter than last year has reduced demand for heating. Countries have been increasing the amount of gas storage with globally sourced liquefied natural gas, making sure there is enough supply and reducing their dependence on Russian gas.

This has eased concerns about gas shortages this winter. Wholesale gas prices are now in line with prices before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but they are still significantly higher than two years ago.

If the decrease in demand continues, wholesale prices should reduce. However, while wholesale prices are low now, energy suppliers buy gas and electricity months in advance to make sure that prices and supply stay stable. This means costs are more fixed, and any reduction in wholesale costs isn’t immediately passed on to consumers. Recent reports show prices for later in 2023 are now higher than the current cost of gas. This means that prices could be high next winter too.

4. What will happen to energy bills in April? I’ve heard there won’t be any support available. Is that true?

Abigail Ward, policy and communications officer at Energy Saving Trust, says:

The UK Government has confirmed that the Energy Price Guarantee will be extended until March 2024. If prices remain high, this scheme will still give vital support to households by reducing the amount they’d have to pay for energy under the price cap.

What will end is the £400 payment to help with energy bills through the Energy Bills Support Scheme. However, more vulnerable consumers will get a cost-of-living payment in spring this year.

5. Surely doing little things like switching off things on standby won’t actually make a difference to my energy bills?

Joanna O’Loan, knowledge manager at Energy Saving Trust, says:

Simple, quick energy saving actions are small, but they do add up to reduce energy use. You won’t save money leaving appliances, electronics or lights on when you don’t need them.

Getting into the habit of switching off your appliances and electronics when you’re not using them, and avoiding standby, could save you up to £65 a year. 

We have lots of other quick tips to save energy and money that can help you lower your bills.

6. I’ve heard draught-proofing can make my house feel warmer, but I’m worried about condensation and mould. How can I deal with this?

Joanna O’Loan, knowledge manager at Energy Saving Trust, says:

If you have mould in your home, clean it off and check where it’s coming from. If the mould is caused by damaged or leaking plumbing, or if a damp proof course isn’t working, you’ll usually need a professional to advise you and fix the problem.

If this isn’t the cause of the condensation or mould, it’s likely a problem with moisture in the air. We’d recommend getting a professional to survey your home, advise you on what you can do to reduce draughts and check there will still be enough ventilation. We wouldn’t advise fitting any new draught-proofing in a room that has a condensation problem.

If you don’t have any problems with condensation, draught-proofing can help reduce your energy bills and make you feel more comfortable. To prevent potential problems in future, make sure you don’t block any controlled ventilation. Air-bricks, grilles, wall vents or trickle vents should be left open to let moist air out and fresh air in.

You’ll find draughts at any accidental gap in your home that leads outside, like gaps between skirting boards or door frames. You should block most of these, but be careful in areas that need good ventilation. Take care in areas with open fires or flues and rooms where you get a lot of moisture like kitchens, bathrooms and utility rooms.

Removable draught-proofing, such as stuffed draught-excluders, might not be as effective but they can be a good option because they let you ventilate rooms easily. Warm homes suffer less from condensation, as the moisture condenses on cooler walls. You might have less risk of condensation if your home is adequately ventilated and heated.

7. What’s the best alternative to a gas boiler if heat pumps aren’t an option?

Joanna O’Loan, knowledge manager at Energy Saving Trust, says:

This depends on what your motivations are and what you mean by ‘best’. If you’re looking for a lower or zero carbon option, electric heating such as storage heaters or direct acting electric heaters may be an option. These have higher running costs than heat pumps or gas boilers, but it might be possible to offset some of these costs by installing solar panels. It might also be worth finding out if there are any district heating schemes you could connect to.

8. What’s the best way to find a good solar panel supplier?

Joanna O’Loan, knowledge manager at Energy Saving Trust, says:

Recommendations from friends and neighbours are a good place to start.

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) has a database of certified contractors and technologies. We’d recommend getting quotes from at least three different installers. Be wary of any installer with high pressure sales tactics like big discounts for signing on the day. Ask about any warranties or guarantees as well as after-sales support.

If you live in Scotland, you can use our Renewables Installer Finder to look for MCS certified installers in your area and read reviews from other customers.

9. I’ve done everything I can to use less energy, but I’m still struggling to pay my bills and put my heating on. What help can I get?

Lynette Williams, consumer expert at Citizens Advice, says:

It’s important to look after your physical and mental health, so it’s important to not reduce energy use too much. Keeping your house warm enough means there’s less risk of your home becoming damp and you getting ill.

A good starting point is to work out what money you have coming in and out each month. You can work out your budget using Citizens Advice’s online budget tool. Saving money or getting more financial support might help you afford more towards your energy bills. You can get advice to help with the cost of living on the Citizens Advice website.

You might be able to get grants or benefits to help you pay your energy bills, for example, a fuel voucher or grant from your energy supplier.

All households are also entitled to some government support. There’s the Energy Price Guarantee in place until 2024, and every household should get £400 off their electricity bill through the Energy Bill Support Scheme.

If you owe your supplier money, they have to help you come to a solution. You should contact your supplier and agree a way to pay back what you owe. Try to negotiate a deal that works for both of you. Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline if you need more help. A trained adviser can give you advice over the phone or by email.

10. What help is available for people who use oil for central heating and hot water?

Lynette Williams, consumer expert at Citizens Advice, says:

If you have an electricity supply, you’ll still get £400 off your electricity bill through the Energy Bills Support Scheme. Your electricity prices will also be limited by the Energy Price Guarantee.

If you can’t afford to buy oil, or might not be able to afford it soon, you could get extra financial help if you’re off the gas grid and use oil as your main source of heating. You won’t be able to apply yourself, but you can get help from an adviser at Citizens Advice.

If you’re in Wales and can’t afford to pay for your oil, you may be able to get help from the Discretionary Assistance Fund. You’ll have to show that you need the money urgently. You can apply for the Discretionary Assistance Fund on the Welsh Government’s website.

11. I still haven’t received the £400 energy bills discount, what should I do?

Lynette Williams, consumer expert at Citizens Advice, says:

You should get £400 off your energy bills across six instalments through the Energy Bills Support Scheme. You should have got £66 in October and November and £67 in December 2022. You’ll also get £67 in January, February and March 2023.

How you get the support will depend on how you pay for your electricity, and there are some differences between suppliers too.

If you pay by direct debit, the amount you pay your supplier might have been reduced, or you may have had the money refunded back into your account. Check your bank statement for any payments that have been made to you, and your electricity statement to see whether the money has been credited towards your electricity usage. Most supplier websites tell you how they give you the support, so check your supplier’s website and contact them if you’re still not sure. 

If you have a smart meter and you prepay for energy, the amount should have been credited to your meter. You can find out how you should receive your discount on the Citizens Advice website.

If you have a traditional prepayment meter – where you top up using a key or card – you’ll probably have been sent vouchers. Suppliers can issue vouchers by email, text or post, and they should have let you know how you were getting the voucher. Check your junk folder, text messages and any opened letters. You might also have been given an automatic credit when you top up at your usual top-up point.

If you can’t find your voucher, or it’s run out, contact your supplier and make sure your contact details are up-to-date. You can ask your supplier to reissue any vouchers. Vouchers last for three months and should be used by 30 June 2023.

If you pay your landlord for energy, you can get advice on the Citizens Advice website. Landlords should pass on a fair amount of any discount they get to you.

Looking for further support?

We’ve got trusted tips to help you save energy and money, while Citizens Advice are on hand to give you tailored advice if you live in England or Wales.

Last updated: 29 January 2024