* Bills set to rise by 230% in January on last year
* Survey shows energy debt already rising
LONDON, Aug 10 (Reuters) - British consumer energy debt is
already at an all-time high, a survey showed on Wednesday, with
six million households owing cash to providers even before bills
leap in October and again in January.
Britain is bracing for already high energy bills to more
than triple this year, with charities warning that millions of
people could be forced into poverty if the government does not
launch a multi-billion pound support package to soften the blow.
The looming crisis has put the two candidates to become the
next prime minister under pressure to set out their response,
and prompted questions as to whether heavy industry and
households would face power blackouts later this year.
According to comparison website Uswitch, almost a quarter of
households owe 206 pounds ($249.10) to providers, a sum that has
risen by 10% in just four months. Energy accounts normally move
into credit in the summer to help cover the winter months.
Uswitch said 8 million households now have no credit at all.
"This suggests the cost-of-living crisis is already
squeezing budgets dramatically, even during the summer months,
as families struggle with rising bills in all areas," Justina
Miltienyte at Uswitch said.
The figures show the scale of the challenge facing Foreign
Secretary Liz Truss and ex finance minister Rishi Sunak, one of
whom will be named as prime minister on Sept. 5 at the end of a
weeks-long process that has stymied the political response.
Johnson's outgoing government has pointed to a convention
that it should not make major policy changes during the race to
succeed him, although Treasury minister Simon Clarke said
officials were drawing up a package of support measures for the
next prime minister to consider.
The government said Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse
had held a meeting of ministers and officials from several
departments on Wednesday to accelerate work on tackling winter
pressures, including the rising cost of living and energy
The two have clashed over the best way to help, with Sunak
saying the government has a moral responsibility to provide
further support payments to the worst off, while frontrunner
Truss has caused consternation by insisting that she would
rather cut taxes than dole out "handouts".
She said on Wednesday she would do everything she could to
get people through the winter, but reiterated that she did not
want to take cash off people in taxes, only to return it in
Truss also said it was important to work with energy
companies on supply to bring prices down.
Critics say tax cuts would favour the richest over the
poorest, and vocal consumer rights champion Martin Lewis has
described the proposal as "outrageous".
Separately, the government said ministers would host the
bosses of energy generating companies on Thursday while they
consider how to respond to the "extraordinary profits" seen in
certain parts of the electricity generation sector.
The government introduced a 25% windfall tax on oil and gas
producers' profits in May, which helped to fund a package of
support for households. Since then, wholesale gas prices have
more than doubled.
The deteriorating conditions have prompted reports that
managed blackouts could be introduced in the winter. The
business department said the country would get the electricity
and gas it needs.
The National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has said
supplies could be tight over some periods in the winter, but
that it has the tools to cope.
Its plans do include power from Europe however, and
questions have grown in recent months about the robustness of
It will publish a full winter outlook in the early autumn.
($1 = 0.8270 pounds)
(Reporting by Kate Holton and William James, additional
reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Jan
Harvey and Kirsten Donovan)