Are high energy bills here to stay?

It was a bad start to the year for millions of households, with the top energy suppliers all confirming that bills would have to increase to mitigate rising crude oil costs.

And the summer has brought even more gloom; so far five of the top six suppliers have introduced a second round of price hikes.

So, should customers expect to see a third rise anytime soon?

Earlier in August, just one day before E.ON increases its rates, the news broke that a Norwegian gas pipe had been closed after a leak was detected. The closure will put further pressure on gas prices, and even prompted a warning that British households now face paying even more of their income on energy bills. The closure prompted prices for wholesale gas to increase by over 10%.

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at, says: "Soaring energy bills pose a huge threat to our standard of living - gas and electricity are essential commodities which have now become a luxury that many can no longer afford.

"The biggest question now is what is going to happen to household energy bills in the future. Unfortunately, all the evidence points towards a painstakingly slow process and a steady climb upwards for energy bills - this will be cold comfort to households this winter."

And Robinson also warns that higher gas bills are not just a short-term problem. With around one third of British power stations needing to be replaced by 2020, at a cost of about £100 billion, plus greater environmental levies on energy suppliers, customers will end up footing the bills - literally.

"It looks like high energy prices are here to stay," she adds.

So what, if anything, can consumers do to lessen the blow? Unsurprisingly, experts suggest households think about switching to a fixed or capped deal now to keep their costs down for as long as possible. At any rate, using a utility price comparison website to see what deals are out there is well worth it, as you may find you could save money elsewhere.

Robinson also recommends consumers consider moving onto an online plan, as these tend to offer better prices. And paying your bill by direct debit is another easy way to reduce the cost of gas and electricity.

If you are fuel poor - meaning you spend more than 10% of your income on energy - or are simply struggling to afford to heat your home, then it is worth contacting your energy supplier to see how they might be able to help you. Most suppliers have increased the financial aid available to vulnerable customers, and you could benefit.

At the same time, people are being urged to cut back on the energy they use. Making sure you switch off lights when you leave a room, turning down the thermostat or simply wearing a thicker jumper during the cold months isn't just environmentally friendly - it's also friendly for your wallet.