Ofgem is lowering its energy price cap – the amount suppliers are able to charge – from the current £4,279 per year to £3,280 for the average household, effective from April 1, it has announced.
The regulator said the reduction of almost £1,000 reflects recent falls in wholesale energy prices.
However, domestic energy bills are still set to rise by an average of £500 a year despite the reduction as the Government’s support for households becomes more limited.
The £3,280 figure indicates how much consumers on their energy suppliers’ basic tariff would pay if the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) was not in place.
But customers will pay about 20% more on their bills – approximately £500 – as the Government’s EPG becomes less generous from the beginning of April, leading to an average bill of £3,000.
When the upcoming end of the £400 energy rebate scheme – paid in six instalments of £66 and £67 a month – is factored in, the energy cost for households will increase even more.
Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said: “Although wholesale prices have fallen, the price cap has not yet fallen below the planned level of the Energy Price Guarantee. This means that on current policy bills will rise again in April. I know that for many households this news will be deeply concerning.
“However, today’s announcement reflects the fundamental shift in the cost of wholesale energy for the first time since the gas crisis began, and while it won’t make an immediate difference to consumers, it’s a sign that some of the immense pressure we’ve seen in the energy markets over the last 18 months may be starting to ease.
“If the reduction in wholesale prices we’re currently seeing continues, the signs are positive that the price cap will fall again in the summer, potentially bringing bills significantly lower.
“However, prices are unlikely to fall back to the level we saw before the energy crisis. Even with the extensive package of government support that is currently in place, this is a very tough time for many households across Britain.
“Where people are struggling, we urge them to contact their supplier to make sure they are getting all the help and support they are entitled to. We also think that, with bills continuing to be so high, there is a case for examining with urgency the feasibility of a social tariff for customers in the most vulnerable situations.”
Citizens Advice chief executive Dame Clare Moriarty said the increase will “spell catastrophe” for millions of households without further support from the Government.
She said: “Unless the Government changes course on planned reductions to the level of support for households under the Energy Price Guarantee, we estimate the number of people unable to afford their bills will double from one in 10 to one in five.
“The Government must keep the EPG at its current level of £2,500. Recent drops in wholesale prices mean they have the headroom to do this. The alternative is millions more people unable to keep their house warm and keep the lights on.”
Dr Craig Lowrey, principal consultant at analysts Cornwall Insight, said the Government will save £2.5 billion by raising the EPG from £2,500 to £3,000 but it will come at a cost to households.
He said: “While the EPG will provide a small saving from today’s announced price cap, the proposed increase in costs will still be difficult for many consumers who were relying on the scheme to safeguard their finances from unpredictable market trends.
“There is some cause for optimism: while the price cap fall may not offer immediate relief for consumers, if wholesale prices continue their downward trajectory, we currently predict that the price cap will fall below the EPG in July. This will provide much-needed relief to struggling households currently waiting to see falling wholesale prices trickle down to their bills.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Ofgem’s latest manoeuvres on the energy price cap do next to nothing to ease the pressure on workers and communities already haunted by the arrival of their fuel bills. This out-of-touch Government is clearly preparing to pull the plug on protecting consumers and is totally abdicating any responsibility for dealing with the runaway profiteering of energy companies.
“A matter of days ago, Centrica/British Gas announced its 2022 profits had trebled to more than £3 billion. This year, it’s planning a £500 million share buyback for a bonanza pay out for its shareholders.
“The British economy is broken for workers – different choices need to be made.”