The number of households owing money to their energy supplier has increased by over 300,000 in the past year, new research shows.
According to price comparison and switching service uSwitch, three million households now collectively owe nearly £400 million to their energy supplier - up by nearly a quarter since this time last year.
The total debt owed has gone up by £75 million in the past year and over £100 million since 2016.
Usually at this time of year households would expect to be in credit ahead of the winter months when more is spent on energy bills.
Worryingly, more than one in ten energy bill payers are actually in arrears, having ended the summer owing their supplier an average of £134 each.
Why is the level of debt so high?
The higher levels of debt follow an unprecedented number of price hikes from suppliers this year which many have blamed on rising wholesale costs.
Since the beginning of the year 32 energy providers have announced 55 price rises, adding nearly £900 million a year to domestic energy bills.
British Gas has raised prices twice this year, taking the typical standard variable tariff bill to £1,205 a year. E.on, SSE, Npower, EDF and Scottish Power have also introduced price rises.
Challenger energy providers such as Ovo and Bulb Energy have also hiked the prices their variable tariffs well above the rate of inflation.
What should you do if you are in debt with your energy supplier?
First of all, if you are struggling to pay your energy bill you should contact your supplier to discuss ways you can pay what you owe.
Your supplier will be able to give you tips on avoiding getting into debt and also help you set up a repayment plan so you can pay back your debt.
You may also be entitled to government help with your energy bills, so this is also worth checking out.
Rik Smith, energy expert at uSwitch.com, says: “The soaring number of households in debt to their energy supplier is a clear indication of the pressure people are under just to make ends meet.”
He adds: “For anyone struggling with their energy bills and worrying about keeping warm, there is help available. They should speak to their supplier as soon as possible about repayment plans and other assistance on offer, and find out if they’re eligible for Government support with energy bills.”
A growing number of households are switching away from the Big Six in favour of smaller alternatives as a result of price hikes.
According to energy switching rules, anyone on a fixed-term tariff has a right to switch to a new deal without paying exit fees when there are 49 or less days before the fixed-term ends.
Mr Smith says: “With winter just around the corner, it’s important that households use this time to tackle rising bills. After so many price rises this year a lot of people may have received a price rise notification over the summer but not switched to a cheaper deal.
“Now is the time for consumers to take action, by making their homes more energy efficient or ensuring they don’t pay any more than they need to for the energy they use.”