Britons were today warned they face the biggest fall in living standards on record with energy bills and mortgage rates soaring – as Rishi Sunak finally unveiled a £9billion cost-of-living crisis package but admitted it will hardly make a dent in the pain for families.
The Chancellor announced new help in the Commons minutes after it was revealed the energy price cap is going up 54 per cent for millions of people in April, meaning typical costs will rise £693 to £1,971.
And as he spoke, the Bank of England pushed interest rates to 0.5 per cent to control rampant inflation, which it now believes will reach 7.25 per cent in April and act like a lead weight on the economy, as well as pushing up unemployment.
It cautioned that disposable incomes are on track to fall by around 2 per cent – the worst impact since comparable records began in 1990.
Mr Sunak said A-D band homes in England will get £150 council tax rebates, while £200 government-backed discounts will help temporarily keep electricity bills lower for everyone – but must be repaid over five years.
There will also be a £150million ‘discretionary fund’ for local authorities to distribute to worse-off families.
But Mr Sunak conceded it would be ‘wrong and dishonest’ to claim that he can take away all the pain, pointing to soaring global gas costs.
He said the ‘vast majority’ of households would see a £350 benefit – but that is barely half the average energy cap increase.
‘Without Government action, this could be incredibly tough for millions of hardworking families. So the Government is going to step in to directly help people manage those extra costs,’ Mr Sunak said.
The policy has been delayed by weeks of internal wrangling with Boris Johnson and the Cabinet, after many ministers pushed for the £12billion national insurance raid to be delayed or axed.
Labour accused Mr Sunak of a ‘puny’ response and a ‘buy now pay later’ approach, arguing he is merely delaying the pain.
He was also assailed by some Tory MPs, with Peter Bone branding him a ‘socialist’ in an extraordinary barb.
Mr Sunak said: ‘We are delivering that support in three different ways. First we will spread the worst of the extra costs of this year’s energy price shock over time. This year all domestic electricity customers will receive an up front discount on their bills worth £200.
‘Energy suppliers will apply the discount on people’s bills from October with the Government meeting the cost in full, that discount will automatically be repaid from people’s bills in equal £40 instalments over the next five years.’
Why are energy costs so high at the moment?
Wholesale gas prices have quadrupled over the past year, underpinning the cost-of-living agony for Britons as the country emerges from the shadow of coronavirus.
Rishi Sunak has insisted that caused the spike is ‘entirely global in nature’, and most experts agree that is largely true.
However, there has been criticism, including from many Tories, that the situation has been made worse by the UK not having enough storage and failing to exploit its own reserves fully.
One major factor is the world economy creaking back into action after the pandemic, with fierce competition for resources.
Nature has not helped, with a relatively windless summer last year and issues with nuclear power.
And Europe endured a cold winter last year, which meant stockpiles were used up.
Geopolitical factors and another huge element, with Russia menacing Ukraine – where much European gas transits – and attempting to ‘weaponise’ its role as a key gas supplier.
Although the UK deliberately does not use much Russian gas, unlike countries such as Germany, we are still exposed to international markets – and the imbalance between supply and demand means prices have gone up.
Alarmingly many members of the Monetary Policy Committee pushed for a bigger rates increase to 0.75 per cent. Investors are anticipating the level will reach 1.5 per cent by the end of the year.
Governor Andrew Bailey said it had been a ‘close call’ but stressed there was only likely to be ‘modest’ further increases in the coming months.
He said the Bank had not acted because the economy is ‘roaring away’, but to counter the risk that inflation is becoming ‘ingrained’ domestically. The new peak is two percentage points higher than was forecast in November.
Experts are warning the cost-of-living crisis could last years, with ministers hitting the panic button amid fears it will be even more toxic to the government than Partygate.
Mr Sunak told MPs: ‘The price cap has meant that the impact of soaring gas prices has so far fallen predominantly on energy companies, so much so that some suppliers who could not afford to meet those extra costs have gone out of business as a result.
‘It is not sustainable to keep holding the price of energy artificially low. For me to stand here and pretend we don’t have to adjust to paying higher prices would be wrong and dishonest.
‘But what we can do is take the sting out of a significant price shock for millions of families by making sure the increase in prices is smaller initially and spread over a longer period.’
He added: ‘Without Government intervention the increase in the price cap would leave the average household having to find an extra £693, the actions I’m announcing today will provide to the vast majority of households just over half of that amount, £350.’
The Ofgem move is likely to impact 22million households across Great Britain, and applies to those who are on their energy supplier’s default tariff.
‘We know this rise will be extremely worrying for many people, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet, and Ofgem will ensure energy companies support their customers in any way they can,’ the watchdog’s chief executive Jonathan Brearley said.
‘The energy market has faced a huge challenge due to the unprecedented increase in global gas prices, a once in a 30-year event, and Ofgem’s role as energy regulator is to ensure that, under the price cap, energy companies can only charge a fair price based on the true cost of supplying electricity and gas.’
Meanwhile, Labour has renewed its demand for a windfall tax on energy companies after Shell recorded an eye-watering £12billion profit in just three months.
On a grim day for a country fighting to recover from the pandemic:
- The interest payable on government borrowing reached a two-year high as the Bank of England made its gloomy announcement, while the pound jumped against the US dollar and euro;
- Scotland will receive £290million in funding under the Barnett Formula to implement its own cost-of-living schemes;
- Official figures confirmed that rising energy, food and transport costs are swallowing up half the disposable income of the poorest;
- Inflation in the OECD area rose to 6.6 per cent in the 12 months to December 2021, the highest rate since July 1991, as countries around the globe grapple with the issue;
- There are more optimistic signs for the economy as the closely-watched IHS Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI survey scored 54.1 in January, with the Omicron wave easing. Anything above 50 represents growth;
- The CBI has warned that Britain is caught in a ‘trap’ of low growth and high taxes and it is likely to be a ‘bumpy decade’ with costs unlikely to reduce for years;
- Defence chief Sir Tony Radakin warned ministers that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would drive prices even higher.
Rates were lifted to 0.5 per cent today and investors are anticipating the level will reach 1.5 per cent by the end of the year
The Bank of England now expects inflation to peak at 7.25 per cent in April, warning that global and domestic price pressures are showing
UK interest rates: These stood at 5.5 per cent just before the financial crisis of 2008 but have since plummeted to record lows
The Bank still believes it is likely that inflation will fall back sharply, as it downgraded growth
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a multi-billion pound package to help soften the impact on struggling families of the cost of living crisis caused by soaring household bills
The latest figures show that the headline CPI rate of inflation has hit 5.4 per cent – with fears it will go even higher
Boris Johnson donned hi vis gear again today on a visit to Blackpool Transport Depot
How will Rishi’s cost-of-living measures work?
ENERGY BILL ‘DISCOUNT’
The government is funding energy firms to cut bills by £200 for every household this year.
The reduction will be automatically applied to bills from October.
But it will then be recovered by adding £40 to annual bills for the next five years, starting in 2023 – meaning the government is only spreading the cost for consumers, rather than cutting it.
The Treasury says that by next year ‘global wholesale gas prices are expected to come down’, but not all experts agree.
COUNCIL TAX REBATE
Households in England in council tax bands A-D will receive a £150 rebate from April.
It will be applied directly by local authorities, and need not be repaid.
The government says 80 per cent of all homes in England will benefit.
Councils will be able to distribute a ‘discretionary fund’ of £144million to support vulnerable people and individuals on low incomes that do not pay council tax – are are needy but live in properties in Bands E-H.
Local authorities will be in charge of deciding who gets this money.
After his statement in the Commons Mr Sunak is due hold a press conference this evening as he seeks to show he has got a grip on the spiralling problems.
He has rejected other options to slash bills, including scrapping VAT on fuel and cutting green levies, had been rejected – angering some Tory MPs.
He said a VAT cut on energy would ‘disproportionately benefit wealthier households’ and become a ‘permanent Government subsidy on everyone’s bills’.
He told the House: ‘I know that some in this House have argued for a VAT cut on energy, however, that policy would disproportionately benefit wealthier households.
‘There would be no guarantee that suppliers would pass on the discount to all customers and we should be honest with ourselves – this would become a permanent Government subsidy on everyone’s bills. A permanent subsidy worth £2.5 billion every year at a time when we are trying to rebuild the public finances.’
Mr Sunak insisted, ‘our plan allows us to provide more generous support, faster to those who need it most’.
Mr Sunak was accused of being a ‘socialist’ by Mr Bone.
‘Conservatives believe in holding taxes down and putting more money into people’s pockets so they can decide how to spend it. Socialists believe in raising taxes and then choosing to give it back in the form of discounts and rebates to selected people the government thinks need it,’ he said.
‘Could the chancellor tell me, his approach in increasing national insurance contributions and then handing money back to different people through rebates and discounts, is that a Conservative approach or socialist approach?’
Mr Sunak replied: ‘I also believe that it is the Conservative approach to be responsible with this nation’s public finances.’
Mr Sunak dismissed the idea that energy firms might be able to pocket the money from the government.
‘The money is not going to energy companies, this is money that is going direct to people. So the £200 will be a direct rebate on individuals’ bills. So that’s a direct benefit to households of £200 in October as a discount to their energy bills,’ he said.
He added energy companies ‘will be of course forced to pass that on through law and through their license conditions’.
Mr Sunak also rejected calls for a windfall tax saying it would have ‘unintended consequences’ such as deterring investment in the North Sea.
On a visit to Blackpool, Mr Johnson described the government’s response as a ‘mega package’. ‘This is a mega package of £9billion on top (of existing measures) which is necessary but it’s huge,’ he told reporters.
‘That is there to help people with this particular spike that we are seeing right now.
‘What I hope and believe is that eventually, as the world economy gets its momentum back, the inflationary pressures will start to subside.’
One way to get inflation under control is to ‘ease those problems in the supply chain’ and ‘get people to work in the jobs where they are needed’, he said.
Mr Johnson again defended the £12billion national insurance rise scheduled for April, insisting it is needed to prop up the NHS and pay for social care reforms.
‘We have got to put in the money to fix it – nine million more scans, 50,000 more nurses, building the hospital capacity that we need – it’s the number one priority of the British people and we’ve got to fund it,’ he said.
The tax rise was ‘not what anybody wants to do, it’s not what Rishi (Sunak) wants to do, it’s not what I want to do, but we have got to do it’.
On a visit to Milton Keynes, Sir Keir Starmer, said the Government’s strategy ‘doesn’t come anywhere near the scale of the challenge’. Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Milton Keynes, the Labour leader said: ‘It’s a dodgy sort of buy now, pay later deal that doesn’t come anywhere near meeting the increasing costs of energy bills. And it’s really such a small response to a very, very big problem.’
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said millions of people are cutting back spending to pay bills, telling the Commons: ‘What do the Government offer? A buy now, pay later scheme that loads up costs for tomorrow.
‘High prices as far as the eye can see – this year, next year and the year after that, give with one hand now and take it all back later. The party opposite used to talk about the nation’s credit card, well today we’ve seen the Chancellor force British households to load up their credit cards.
‘By lending billions of pounds to energy companies, the Chancellor is gambling that prices are going to fall – but they could go up further in October. What then? Billions more loaded onto people’s bills?
‘The best way of targeting support to those who need it most would be an increase to £400 and an extension to 9 million households of the warm homes discount, as Labour has proposed today. Their scheme today is a pale imitation of Labour’s, especially for the households and pensioners on the most modest incomes.’
Ms Reeves highlighted Labour’s plan for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers, accusing the Chancellor of seeking to ‘shield’ them, before adding: ‘The Conservatives aren’t solving the cost of living crisis because the Conservative Party are the cost of living crisis.’
Labour’s Chris Bryant complained that the government was being ‘dishonest’ and ‘bribing voters with their own money’. He told the Commons £350 in support for households to help mitigate rocketing energy prices ‘does not even touch it’.
The MP for Rhondda said: ‘I know the Chancellor is all pumped up but this is pretty puny stuff to be honest – £350 isn’t going to touch the sides of the problem for my constituents in Rhondda.
‘Gas and electricity up for the average family in my constituency by £686. Fuel up by £314. The average weekly shop up by £385. Universal Credit cut by £1,040. National Insurance up by £150 and frozen tax allowances by him will cost another £300. That’s £2,875 in a constituency where the average wage is £27,000.
‘That’s really going to cause hardships; £350 does not even touch it.’
In a grim assessment, The Bank of England raised interest rates to 0.5 per cent and signalled more hikes are on the way as it warned rocketing inflation will see the worst hit to household income for at least 32 years.
It is the first back-to-back rise since 2004, coming after a quarter point increase at its last meeting in December.
The Bank painted a dire picture of the prospects for prices stabilising quickly, while unemployment is expected to creep up
Shell records £12bn profit in just THREE MONTHS as energy prices soar
It has been a bumper three months for energy giant Shell, which managed to increase its profits nearly fourteen-fold amid soaring oil and gas prices.
As prices surged, the company’s upstream unit was able to collect 8.88 dollars for every thousand cubic feet of gas it sold to customers over the last quarter of 2021.
Just six months earlier gas had been selling for 4.31 dollars, less than half of its most recent level.
Gas prices have been pushed up in the last year for many reasons, including Russia restricting supply to Europe and China buying up more international gas shipments.
Meanwhile, winds in Europe were unusually still last summer, meaning more gas was needed to replace the electricity that would otherwise have been produced by wind turbines.
The price rises have led to energy suppliers going out of business, contributed to soaring inflation, and from April 1 households will be hit with a hike in energy bills of hundreds of pounds.
But for Shell the rises in gas prices, and an 18 per cent spike in the price at which its upstream business sold oil, helped propel it to a 16.3billion US dollar (£12billion) pre-tax profit in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with just 1.2 billion dollars (£885.5million) in the third quarter.
Chief executive Ben van Beurden said: ‘We delivered a very strong financial performance in 2021, and our financial strength and discipline underpin the transformation of our company.’
That transformation has included a move of Shell’s headquarters to the UK, a simplification of the company’s previously confusing share structure, and the dropping of the ‘Royal Dutch’ part of its name.
Four of the nine members called for a steeper rate increase – to 0.75 per cent – to help put the brakes on rampant inflation.
The Bank cautioned that rocketing energy prices will drive inflation to an eye-watering 7.25 per cent in April, which is the highest level since August 1991.
It predicted around another 10 per cent rise in the Ofgem cap this October.
But its forecasts do not take into account the Chancellor’s package of measures announced on Thursday, offering £350 support for the majority of UK households.
The Bank said while the economy is expected to bounce back quickly from an Omicron impact in December and January, growth will then slow to ‘subdued rates’ as inflation impacts spending.
This is set to send Britain’s jobless rate rising from 4 per cent this year to 5 per cent in 2024.
The Bank also announced the start of so-called quantitative tightening, by allowing its £895billion quantitative easing programme to begin winding down naturally.
It will stop reinvesting money in further assets when gilts and bonds mature, while it will also begin selling off its £20billion corporate bonds portfolio.
In minutes of the rates decision, the Bank said: ‘Given the current tightness of the labour market and continuing signs of greater persistence in domestic cost and price pressures, the committee judges that an increase in Bank Rate of 0.25 percentage points is warranted.’
It added that ‘some further modest tightening in monetary policy is likely to be appropriate in the coming months’.
But the Bank cooled financial market forecasts of a flurry of rate rises in 2022.
It predicted that inflation will undershoot its 2 per cent target in the medium term if rates rise to 1.5 per cent by the middle of 2023, as financial markets expect, signalling it will take a more cautious approach.
However, it gave a sobering alert on the impact of rising inflation on consumers and the wider economy.
The Bank said sharp rises in energy prices and the cost of goods amid supply chain pressures will weigh on spending and growth.
‘This is something monetary policy is unable to prevent,’ it cautioned.
The Bank downgraded the growth outlook to 3.75 per cent in 2022 and 1.25 per cent in 2023 from the 5 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively predicted in November.
Mr Bailey told a press conferencein Threadneedle Street: ‘The MPC judges that if the economy develops broadly in line with the February report’s central protection, some further modest tightening of monetary policy is likely to be appropriate in the coming months.
‘But it would be a mistake to extrapolate simplistically from what we have done today and assume that rates are now on an inevitable long march upwards.’
Earlier, CBI chief Tony Danker said there was set to be two or three years of ‘very high energy bills’.
‘My question is really whether or not the economy is going to grow fast enough after this year for everybody to have the wage growth they need to cope with higher bills,’ he told Sky News.
‘Let’s see the detail. But I think this is a much more profound problem: how is Britain going to grow its economy and grow wages. The government’s in a tough spot.’
Ofgem shows the breakdown of costs in the energy price cap for a dual fuel customer paying by direct debit with typical use
Wholesale gas price costs in the energy price cap are shown in pence per therm in this graphic from Ofgem
Mr McFadden added: ‘This is just one part of a triple whammy that’s coming at households right now – you’ve got the energy price rises which we are talking about today, you’ve also got tax rises coming in April, you’ve got declining real wages.
‘These three things are coming together to squeeze household incomes in a way that we haven’t seen for many, many years.’
Mr McFadden said Mr Sunak’s plan was ‘buy now, pay later’ for consumers, and said Shell’s profits demonstrated the wisdom of a windfall tax.
‘They are planning share buybacks and increased dividends but they are not being asked to pay a penny towards the package,’ he told Sky News.
Taking aim at Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Mr McFadden said: ‘He is not asking the oil and gas companies – who are making the most out of this – to pay a single penny towards this.
UK services sector bounces back after Omicron woes
The recovery of the UK service sector regained momentum last month as Omicron coronavirus restrictions and case numbers eased back, according to new figures.
The closely-watched IHS Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI survey scored 54.1 in January, bouncing back from a 10-month low of 53.6 in December.
Any score above 50 shows growth in the sector.
The latest data showed that activity in the sector improved during the month as Plan B restrictions and concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 eased.
Duncan Brock, group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), said: ‘There were some positive outcomes in January’s results.
‘Business activity picked up in the biggest sector making up the UK economy as customer footfall improved and Omicron restrictions were wound up and put away.
‘The improvement was slight but brought better news compared to the previous month’s falls, with an uplift in new business and a few more overseas orders coming though.’
Surveyed firms reported that new business growth ‘accelerated sharply’ as forward bookings were buoyed by the easing of Omicron-related disruption.
‘Instead he is doing it on a buy now, pay later way.’
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the crisis in Ukraine was partly to blame for soaring energy bills.
Mr Cleverly told Times Radio: ‘The situation in Ukraine has played a part in what has been a global increase in wholesale gas prices and that’s had a knock on effect through the supply chain right through to the energy companies in the UK and ultimately to people’s bills.’
He said the Government already had targeted support in place for pensioners and lower-income families and had increased the minimum wage.
Meanwhile, a debt management charity said it has been ‘inundated’ with inquiries from people choosing between ‘heating and eating’.
Sylvia Simpson, project director at Leeds charity Money Buddies, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the charity is even seeing people with incomes struggling to pay their bills.
She said: ‘We see it in clients coming to us every day, we are inundated with people coming to see us.
‘We had one recently where she was choosing between heating her home or eating a warm microwave meal as she turned the fire off to turn the microwave on.
‘Lots of people are coming in with different inquiries relating to their budgets and how they can manage and it’s not just the poorest of people as well.
‘We’re getting nurses, you know people that have an income as well, but are faced with that choice of whether to heat or eat.’
The first move today will come from energy regulator Ofgem, which is expected to announce that the energy price cap will soar from £1,277 to more than £1,900 for the average household – a staggering increase of more than 50 per cent.
Families with larger properties risk even bigger hikes – with some facing an increase of as much as £1,500.
Analysts warn that, on current trends, the price cap will rise again in October to around £2,300.
Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured) are said to have approved plans for £6billion in state-backed loans to limit the impact of soaring energy prices on household bills
At noon, the Bank of England is set to raise interest rates for the second time in two months, with the base rate increasing to 0.5 per cent – the highest level since March 2020.
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey is expected to warn that the increase is needed to curb inflation, which rose to 5.4 per cent last month – the highest level for 30 years. Analysts fear further rate rises will follow.
Mr Sunak will respond with his plans, while issuing a warning on the dangers of inflation and a vow to bring public spending under control. He is then expected to give a press conference in Downing Street in the afternoon.
Today’s package is likely to be less generous than it first seems. The £200 rebate will be funded by government loans to the energy firms worth around £6billion.
Firms will be required to pass on the cash directly to consumers in the form of a rebate.
But the suppliers will have to repay the money in later years via a ‘clawback’ levy on bills, meaning consumers will ultimately return the money they receive this year.
The industry, which proposed the scheme, had initially asked for £20billion in order to spread the entire cost of the price spike over a period of years.
But, with prices forecast to remain high for at least two years, the Treasury was unwilling to set a precedent of artificially freezing bills at an unknowable cost to the taxpayer.
The second strand of assistance will be targeted at millions of families on means-tested benefits and will not be recouped by the Treasury. Industry sources suggested this could provide an extra £300 to poorer families. The cost to the Treasury would be £2-£3 billion.
Ministers have discussed a range of options for distributing the cash, including using the existing Warm Homes Discount Scheme, which is worth £140 a year, making Universal Credit more generous, or giving a council tax rebate to homes in bands A to C. The Treasury declined to say which option the Chancellor had chosen.
A series of independent surveys has found widespread evidence of families having to choose between heating and eating.
The Resolution Foundation think-tank warned that April looks set to be a ‘cost of living catastrophe as energy bills and taxes rise steeply overnight’.
The hardship comes at a time when oil and gas giants, such as BP and Shell, are making billions from the global spike in gas prices. This has sparked calls from Labour for a windfall tax.
Research by Age UK suggests older people who are struggling with the cost of heating will need at least £500 in support to stay warm and keep the lights on.
Spokesman Caroline Abrahams said: ‘The number of older people who are worried about being able to heat their homes is staggering and should be a source of shame for this Government.
‘Millions of older people across the UK are absolutely dreading the imminent price cap announcement.
‘Every single day we are hearing heart-breaking stories from desperate older people who are being forced to choose between heating and eating. This isn’t a looming crisis, it’s already upon us. Millions of older people are suffering.’
YOU are £2,951 worse off thanks to post-Covid cost of living crisis: How ‘Black Thursday’ increase to energy cap and interest rates adds to inflation that is making millions of Brits poorer
Britons suffered a double whammy of large increases in the cost of living today with the energy price cap soaring by nearly £700 and interest rates going up to 0.5 per cent in their second rise in just seven weeks.
National Insurance is set to increase by 1.25 percentage points in April; petrol prices are up by more than a quarter in a year; and council tax is expected to rise by an average of 3 per cent for the forthcoming year.
An average household will spent £139 a year more on food in 2022, clothing and footwear costs are up by an extra £51 a year; while families will spend an extra £136 on household goods due to soaring inflation.
As today was dubbed ‘Black Thursday’ by analysts due to the multiple rises, this is how the increases in the cost of living will impact the average family – with the total rise set to be £2,951:
FUEL BILL: £693
Energy regulator Ofgem announced this morning that the energy price cap will soar from £1,277 to more than £1,971 for the average household – a staggering increase of about £693 or 54 per cent.
The price cap will increase from April 1 for 22million Britons. Those on default tariffs paying by direct debit will see the increase referred to above, while prepayment customers will see an increase of £708 from £1,309 to £2,017.
There are widespread warnings that this will cause some households to choose between heating and eating.
Ofgem said that from 1 April the equivalent per unit level of the price cap to the nearest pence for a typical customer paying by direct debit will be 28p per kWh for electricity customers and 7p per kWh for gas customers.
Families with larger properties risk even bigger hikes – with some facing an increase of as much as £1,500. Analysts have warned that, on current trends, the price cap will rise again in October to around £2,300.
Wholesale gas and electricity prices have soared since last August, but consumers are protected from even bigger rises by fixed-rate terms and by this price cap.
Shortly after the announcement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised to ‘take the sting out’ of the price rises. He promised that all 28 households in Britain would get a £200 up-front rebate on their energy bills from October.
The Government will provide the cash for this, but it wants the money back so will hike bills by £40 per year over the next five years from 2023 to recoup its cash.
Ofgem shows the breakdown of costs in the energy price cap for a dual fuel customer paying by direct debit with typical use
Wholesale gas price costs in the energy price cap are shown in pence per therm in this graphic from Ofgem
Wholesale electricity price costs in the energy price cap are shown in pounds per megawatt hour in this graphic from Ofgem
Millions of homeowners face punishing mortgage bill hikes in the coming months after interest rates rose to 0.5 per cent today – meaning the average Briton could now endure extra repayments of £552 per year.
The increase is the second rise in seven weeks, after the interest rate edged up from 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent in December, and it comes on the day that Ofgem increased the energy price cap by 54 per cent to £1,971.
For anyone who has just bought a home for the UK average of £276,000 and has an 80 per cent loan on a tracker rate, the 0.25 percentage point rise in interest rates to 0.5 per cent means extra repayments of £552 a year.
Meanwhile online mortgage broker Trussle calculated today that the annual cost of the average new mortgage has risen by £650 in less than two months – including £331.56 just from the latest base rate increase today.
It means that those taking out a new mortgage today would face annual payments £656.04 higher than if they had taken out the same mortgage in early December 2021 – equating to nearly £55 per month. This is based on an average two-year fixed mortgage with a 15 per cent deposit (£39,600) using an average house price of £264,000.
About two million borrowers with variable rate mortgages will be affected almost immediately by the rise – and markets now predict a level of 1.5 per cent by the end of the year, the highest in more than a decade.
UK interest rates: These stood at 5.5 per cent just before the financial crisis of 2008 but have since plummeted to record lows
The interest rate level is still in the range of the historic lows that have become entrenched since the Credit Crunch
The Bank of England now expects inflation to peak at 7.25 per cent in April, warning that price pressures are showing
The Bank of England still believes it is likely that inflation will fall back sharply, as it downgraded growth today
NATIONAL INSURANCE: £254
In April, national insurance rates will increase by 1.25 percentage points. That means an extra 1.25 per cent of all your earnings over the primary NI threshold of £9,568, which is an extra £254 per year for those earning £35,000.
The controversial hike, which is being implemented to cover the shortfall in social care funding and help clear NHS backlogs, also means someone on a salary of £50,000 would see their contributions go up by £404.
COUNCIL TAX: £40
Councils have yet to set their council tax rates for the forthcoming year (most do in March), but according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, many are likely to push up rates by close to the maximum that the Government allows.
This figure is 2 per cent plus a further 1 per cent in the case of councils which provide social care. Assuming an typical 2.8 per cent rise, this would push up average bills by £40 next year.
Today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak also promised a £150 council tax rebate for homes in bands A to D, something he said would cover around 80 per cent of homes in England.
He also promised £144million to councils to support vulnerable people.
RUNNING A CAR: £717
Petrol and diesel are up by 26.8 per cent in a year. Given that the average household spends £22.30 per week on fuel, that means an extra £5.98 a week, or £311 a year.
Second-hand car prices have rocketed even more – by 28.6 per cent. That’s a jump of £391 in the annualised cost of buying a car. Then there is servicing and repairs, which with inflation at 4.5 per cent means an extra £15 a year.
BUS AND TRAIN FARES: £67
Think you can ditch the car to escape the price rises? Forget it: Bus and train fares are up 5.9 per cent in a year. Given that the average household spends £21.70 a week on them, that’s another £1.28 a week: £67 per year.
TAX BAND FREEZE: £136
This is how economists describe how the Government is cunningly extracting extra money by failing to increase tax thresholds with inflation. The personal tax allowance – the rate before which you pay any income tax – is currently £12,570.
If this increased with the Consumer Prices Index, as you would normally expect it to, it would rise to £13,248 this year. That means that a median earner will be paying 20 per cent income tax on the difference of £678 a year – an extra £136 a year.
FOOD AND DRINK: £165
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the average household spends £63.70 a week on food. Annual inflation in food is 4.2 per cent, meaning an average household will be spending an extra £2.67 a week – or £139 per year in 2022. Booze prices are rising at 3.9 per cent: that’s another £26 per year extra.
CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR: £51
The average family spends £23.40 per week on clothing and shoes. As with food, the inflation rate in these items is 4.2 per cent. That’s an extra £51 per year.
ONS data showed that December 2021’s increase reflected rising food prices and the higher cost of clothing and furniture
The latest ONS figures show that the headline CPI rate of inflation has hit 5.4 per cent – with fears it will go even higher
HOUSEHOLD GOODS AND HEALTH PRODUCTS: £178
According to the ONS, an average household spends £36.50 per week on these. With an inflation rate at a terrifying 7.3 per cent, that’s an extra £136 a year. We also spend £8.20 a week on health and wellbeing products, which are rising at 2.2 per cent per year – another £42 over the 12 months.
Families’ horror at ‘terrifying’ energy bill hike and cost of living increase that will squeeze budgets of millions of Brits, make getting a mortgage harder and ‘kill small businesses’ after years of Covid restrictions
Britons were left ‘terrified’ by the increase in household energy bills today as they warned it could ‘kill small businesses’ after two years of pandemic restrictions.
Regulator Ofgem has confirmed energy bills will soar by £693 per year from the beginning of April, as the Government stepped in with help for households.
The price cap has been hiked to a record £1,971 for a typical household, while for customers with prepayment meters the cap will go up by £708 to £2,017.
The decision is likely to impact 22 million households across Great Britain, and applies to those who are on their energy supplier’s default tariff.
Among those worried about the rises were Liam and Kerry Bilson from Derbyshire, who run a small jewellery firm and said the economic conditions were ‘brutal’.
Also speaking out was Kerry Mackay, of Llangollen, Wales, who owns a sustainable sponge firm and said she was ‘running my business wrapped in a blanket’.
And Malcolm Baker, a frog breeder from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, said: ‘RIP the self-employed and sole traders. This price rise is going to kill small businesses.’
Shortly after the announcement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised to ‘take the sting out’ of the price rises. He promised that all 28 households in Britain would get a £200 up-front rebate on their energy bills from October.
Here is what a group of around 20 people in Britain had to say about the rises:
Liam and Kerry Bilson, of Derbyshire, from jewellery gifting firm Letterbox Love
Liam: ‘As a small business, the UK is becoming an increasingly difficult country to operate in.
‘Our supplier costs are inevitably going to increase due to the cost of production going up as a result of the energy price increases, so the price for customers will also have to increase, making it a lot harder to remain competitive.
‘We specialise in affordable gifts to comfort and empower people but affordability is being stretched to the limit. First the pandemic and now an energy and cost of living crisis. It’s brutal out there.’
Adam and Natalie Bamford, of Derby, from gift box company Colleague Box
‘The staggering speed of the rises has blown us away as a business.
‘We took action over the new year to reduce the size of the sales team, which gives us some headway with costs but it will have a long-term impact on our growth as less people equal less income.
‘We are holding off purchasing electric vehicles due to the cost increase, which impacts our green credentials, which in turn will affect some of our sales opportunities that require such actions.
‘At the moment I couldn’t feel the Government could care any less about businesses as it stumbles from one shambles to another.’
Kerry Mackay, of Llangollen, Wales, owner of sustainable sponge firm ScrubbiesUK
‘Having clawed my way out of food bank poverty, here I am, three years on, running my business wrapped in a blanket.
‘This sharp increase in energy prices is a massive blow to businesses and people around the UK.
‘Small businesses like mine are experiencing pain in stereo.
‘Rising energy prices, the rising cost of living, rising interest rates, rising everything. It’s brutal out there right now.’
Marianne Trent, of Coventry, Good Thinking Psychological Services psychologist
‘As a mental health professional, I am concerned about the impact a massive hike in energy prices will have on our society’s most vulnerable.
‘Benefits and other income are not rising to cover these increases and as such people’s quality of life and therefore mental health is likely to suffer.
‘This is a big deal for older adults, low income families and people with disabilities.
‘It means there will be less money around to help smooth over the bumps in life and at a time where there are a fair few craters in the road, let alone bumps, this is potentially going to have a massive impact on people.’
Graham Wells, of East Lothian, financial coach at GroWiser Financial Coaching
‘Like millions of others, I now work permanently from home, which means using more energy, especially during the winter months.
‘I switched to a sustainable energy provider during the pandemic, with the promise of a better deal.
‘But already, monthly payments have increased from £100 to £150. And that’s before April’s price rises kick in.
‘You can’t help but wonder why the government didn’t have the foresight to invest much more heavily in renewables long ago.
‘With the highest levels of wind, wave and tidal potential in Europe, it feels like a squandered opportunity to create a more stable and affordable national energy supply. Roll on Spring, so the heating can be switched off.’
Natalie Fletcher, of Manchester, owner of manufacturing firm Mancmade
‘For many people, it is a case of eat or heat. The fact that we’re in this position, after two years of the pandemic, is a disaster.
‘As a country, we are going backwards. How much longer can we be pushed into a corner, while the elites watch on, scoffingly?
‘The government is simply not doing enough to help everyday people. Just look at the quiet high streets of the UK, they tell you all you need to know about what’s happening.’
Malcolm Baker, of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, breeder at Halo Dart Frogs
‘RIP the self-employed and sole traders. This price rise is going to kill small businesses.
‘Such a massive rise will hit the pockets of the lower income families and those who like myself are disabled and need to have constant heat in the home.
‘For those people and myself there is no choice between eat or heat. It’s go hungry to stay safe.’
Eddie Young, of Burton-on-Trent, magician at MisterEY Entertainment
‘How much more can people and small businesses take?
‘Energy price rises and interest rate increases are not just going to hit my bills, they are going to have a knock-on effect on the food and clothing I can buy.
‘And let’s not forget the rise in council tax and National Insurance.
‘The Government has got its head stuck in the sand.
‘Right now, I cannot see a way out and nor can many other working families.’
Jade Newman, of Newport, Wales, founder of jewellery firm Earth Symbols
‘I’m gravely concerned about the rise in energy prices. Running a small business from home that relies on electricity to run my 3D printers, my business overheads have an impact on my family budget. I shopped around for a good renewable energy supplier but I am currently unsure if they will be raising their prices. Right now my electricity bill is exactly half the price of my monthly mortgage cost.
‘If it goes any higher it will have a huge impact on our family budget. I feel that the continual energy price rises haven’t been monitored or regulated sufficiently. Energy companies, especially the large ones with a monopoly, are exploiting UK consumers. Being able to heat your home or cook your meals shouldn’t be a luxury that only a select few can afford.’
Graham Cox, of Bristol, founder of Self Employed Mortgage Hub
‘The energy cap rise will inevitably make it harder for people to get a mortgage. All lenders will factor this increase and other price rises such as food and fuel into affordability calculations.
‘With interest rates also likely to rise this week, we could well see house prices fall within a few months.’
Michael Oszmann, of London, founder of e-commerce marketplace Buy Britain
‘We seem to be in a needless state of self-flagellation. I don’t see how making the poor poorer, offshoring manufacturing jobs (and carbon), and becoming dependent on Russia and Qatar for energy imports helps anything?
‘It doesn’t make us greener or our lives better.
‘I say this as someone who wants to see greater sustainability but I think we’re going about this the wrong way.
‘The government needs to urgently reconsider its energy policies and roadmap to sustainability.’
Scott Gallacher, of Leicester, from chartered financial planners Rowley Turton
‘My business was lucky in that we signed a two-year fixed rate energy deal last summer.
‘However, I’m very concerned that many other businesses, and the general public will struggle to pay their new higher energy bills.
‘I think the government needs to reconsider its planned National Insurance rise given the financial challenges UK businesses and the public are facing at the moment.’
Jez Lamb, of Birkenhead, Wirral, founder of online drinks retailer Beers@No.42
‘Once again, households and small businesses have to take a seat on the see-saw of uncertainty.
‘Energy prices rises, the soaring cost of living and interest rate increases are putting a phenomenal amount of pressure on us.
‘As a small business, if we increase our prices to reflect the price rises we incur, we risk losing customers to the bigger businesses who can absorb the rises.
‘If we don’t put our prices up, our margins are squeezed even further, which means we struggle to be viable.
‘The cost of living squeeze has been devastating in recent months, whether in the form of food and fuel price rises or raw materials, the list goes on.
‘We’re now back on that see-saw yet again. The average business is being squeezed from all sides.’
Imran Hussain, of Nottingham, director at Harmony Financial Services
‘I can see a lot of people from all walks of life being concerned as some of the rises in energy costs are huge.
‘I have seen some clients’ bills go from £150 to over £400 on the new fixed tariff being offered, which is going to push many people into debt and put them in a position of having to decide whether to eat or heat.’
Lucinda O’Reilly, of London, director of The International Trade Consultancy
‘The latest jump in energy prices will make it even harder for small businesses to stay competitive.
‘The government says it wants manufacturers to export more but it does nothing to mitigate rising costs such as energy.
‘We need a coherent industrial policy to enable SMEs to invest and grow.
‘It’s the only way we’re getting out of the current economic difficulties.’
Lewis Shaw, of Mansfield, mortgage expert at Shaw Financial Services
‘The rise in energy costs will be terrifying, especially for people already struggling with the problems high inflation brings.
‘I suspect there’s going to be a lot of debt consolidation remortgages in the coming months as people look to rearrange their finances, clear off credit cards and personal loans with a new mortgage to reduce overall outgoings, freeing up disposable income to take the pressure of potentially stretched income due to inflation.’
Kate Allen, of Devon, owner of holiday lettings firm Salcombe Finest
‘It’s the chain reaction that causes concern for my holiday lettings business. Increasing energy costs and interest rates mean the homeowners we work with have higher bills to pay and mortgages to afford.
‘To make the numbers stack up, they will be looking to increase the rental yield for their property, which means higher prices for guests.
‘The question is, how much heat can our guests take?
‘Or how attractive will owning a holiday home become if there is a real sting in the running costs?’
Jamie Rackham, of Bristol, founder of artists’ group Not On Amazon
‘Rising costs are putting energy companies themselves out of business.
‘This is reducing the number of choices available for consumers.
‘The remaining companies aren’t showing any signs of reversing their profit-driven business models.
‘As far as I can see we’re sliding towards a situation where the boards of a handful of global corporations are going to be in complete control of every aspect of people’s lives.’
Amy Baker, of Cambridgeshire, owner at Halo Beauty and Holistic Therapy salon
‘The rise in the energy price cap will not only affect us all personally but is possibly the final nail in the coffin for the beauty industry.
‘Customers will have less disposable funds to spend on non-essential purchases.
‘We are struggling to earn enough to heat our own homes and it looks set to get worse.
‘Our industry has had no government help since Covid began and now the energy crisis is going to be another pandemic for the personal care industry. The whole outlook is bleak.’
Q&A: What is contributing to the cost of living crisis, where are the price hikes being felt the most and what can Britons expect over the next few months?
– Why is everything more expensive?
Covid-19 has hit global supply chains with a combination of pent-up demand and delays to shipping as factories across the world face lockdowns and worker absences.
This has led to prices rising, particularly for raw materials.
Food prices have also risen as wages increase, including for HGV drivers due to recent shortages and with thousands of drivers leaving the UK to return to their home countries in the EU.
All of this is adding to eye-watering rises in energy bills after wholesale gas prices shot up by about 500% in 2021, as well as record costs at the petrol pumps from hikes in oil prices globally.
– Will inflation remain high?
Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation is currently running at 5.4 per cent as of December, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The Bank of England has warned inflation will rise to 6 per cent in April, but many experts are predicting it could peak at close to 7 per cent before falling back.
It is hoped that inflation will start to fall back in the second half of 2022, though it may not be until next year that CPI gets back to the bank’s 2 per cent target.
– What other costs can I expect to increase this year?
The Resolution Foundation recently said each household can expect outgoings to increase by £1,200 this year.
Along with rising energy bills, there is also a one-year 1.25 per cent National Insurance rate rise due in April to help pay for social care and NHS funding.
This comes as wages are already failing to keep up with rises in the cost of living, with average weekly earnings after taking account of inflation falling for the first time in more than a year.
The latest inflation figures have shown that food retailers are also starting to pass on higher costs to consumers, with inflation firmly hitting the supermarket shelves.
– Where are food price rises being felt the most?
The ONS said food inflation reached 4.5 per cent year-on-year in December and was 1.4 per cent since November alone.
The biggest rises were seen for bread and cereals, as well as oil and fats and meat.
Retail Prices Index data reveals the price of lamb shot up by 5.7 per cent over the month while staples such as fresh milk jumped 3 per cent, bread was 2 per cent higher and eggs lifted 1 per cent.
In the fruit and vegetable aisles, some of the steepest price rises were for potatoes, up 2.1 per cent, with processed veg seeing a 5.1 per cent hike.
– What is being done to help households?
A Government spokesman said: ‘We recognise people are facing pressures with the cost of living, which is why we are providing support worth around £12billion this financial year and next.
‘We will provide an update in due course on further help for households across the UK to meet their energy costs in the face of rising global gas prices.’
Chancellor Rishu Sunak said the Government will help people with the rising cost of energy in the same way it ‘stood behind the British people through the pandemic’.
Following Ofgem’s price cap rise announcement, he said every British household will receive an upfront £200 discount on their energy bill in October and four in five households will be covered by a further £3.5billion of relief provided by £150 council tax rebates for bands A to D.
Why are energy prices rising and what will it mean for households in Britain?
The price of the gas and electricity that millions of households across Britain buy is going to spike by £693 after Ofgem reviewed its cap on energy bills.
It is likely to put pressure on households, especially those that are less well off who spend a higher proportion of their income on simply keeping their homes warm and lights on.
But why are energy prices rising, and what will the impact be?
– Why has there been a surge in energy prices?
The main reason is the price of gas on global markets. Gas prices are around four times higher than they were a year ago, and they have been high for months.
Until now Ofgem’s price cap has protected customers, but it is reviewed every six months, and will be changed in April to take into account the price surge.
There is not one single cause for the gas price rise, but people, companies and countries generally are having to compete with each other to buy up gas.
A year ago countries in Europe and Asia burned through a lot of their gas reserves to heat homes during the long winter.
They have therefore had to go back and buy gas to fill up again, which increases demand and pushes up prices.
Demand is also high as the world comes out of successive lockdowns and businesses try to make up for lost time – many will need lots of gas for this.
Meanwhile, gas production is also lower, and the weather was less windy over the summer – causing more gas to be burned for electricity.
Between them, many of these factors have increased demand and reduced supply, a situation which will almost always lead to higher prices.
– Are things going to get better?
That could depend on many issues.
Fortunately this winter has proved milder than it could have been, so less gas has been needed to heat homes. But many experts still think it could be years before gas prices drop below their high levels.
Goldman Sachs thinks gas prices will remain at twice their usual level until 2025.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the US announced it was sending 3,000 troops to eastern Europe, where Russia and Ukraine are gearing up for a potential war.
If there is a war, and the west places sanctions on Russia, this could push up gas prices further.
The UK only gets 3 per cent of its gas from Russia – most of our gas is produced at home or pumped from Norway – but many European countries rely on Russia for their gas.
If supplies to Europe are disrupted in any way, this will push up prices in the UK too.
– What impact will this have on households?
Energy bills will go up, even if you are in the minority of people in the UK who lives in a home without gas heating or cooking facilities, as around 40 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs are still met by burning gas at power stations.
So both gas and electricity bills are likely to rise, although of course more so for gas bills.
Bills will be capped at the new rate between April and October. It will mean another £58 on bills every month for the typical household.
Experts predict that bills could rise further, to more than £2,300 per year for the typical household in October.
– What impact will this have on businesses?
Businesses are less heterogeneous than households, so different companies will be affected in different ways. Most immediately, companies that supply energy to households have been squeezed for months.
More than two dozen of them have already gone out of business since September. They have often promised to sell gas and electricity to customers at a fixed price for a year or sometimes longer.
When customers signed those contracts, the gas price was lower than it is today. Now the gas price has overtaken the contracts, leaving suppliers possibly having to buy gas for more than they can charge for selling it.
Some have taken out insurance by buying this gas a year ahead of time – these companies are generally fine at the moment. But others have not and are struggling to stay afloat.
For these suppliers, the new energy price cap will address this imbalance. However, other businesses are also being hit, with many manufacturers relying on gas to run heavy machinery.
Ultimately many of the rises in gas prices for businesses are being passed on to customers, with inflation hitting 5.4 per cent in the year to December.
From grant schemes to repayment plans: How to keep your energy bills low
Regulator Ofgem has announced an increase in the price cap for energy prices which will cause a spike in bills for consumers.
Gas prices have been increasing significantly in the last few months, and the change in the price cap could leave many struggling to pay for their heating.
Justina Miltienyte, energy policy expert at Uswitch.com, said: ‘This is the most difficult energy price hike in recent memory and comes at a time when other essential bills are also being hiked. It’s vital that people stay engaged with what’s happening across all their bills.
‘If you’re worried about getting into debt, it is important to contact your supplier as soon as possible. It’s also worth checking what grants and schemes might be available to help cover your energy bills, particularly if you or someone you know is vulnerable.’
Here are some long and short-term options on how to keep your energy usage low and to keep your monthly bills down:
– Call your supplier to see if you can agree a repayment plan
Under Ofgem rules your supplier must work with you on this. You can ask them for a review of your payments and debt repayments, payment breaks or reductions, more time to pay, or access to hardship funds.
You can also ask for the priority service registration, a free support service if you are in a vulnerable situation.
– Check on existing grant schemes from your supplier or the Government
Many suppliers offer grants to help you make your home more energy efficient or for boiler checks and other work.
The Government also offers grants under conditions:
- Winter Fuel Payment: A £100 to £300 fuel payment for people born on or before October 5 1954.
- Cold Weather Payment: A £25 payment for every seven days of very cold weather between November and March.
- Warm Home Discount: A £140 discount for some people getting Pension Credit or some people in low-income households.
- Household Support Fund: A funding package to help vulnerable households this winter. Contact your local council for advice and help on accessing the fund.
- Charities also offer support with bills
The Citizens Advice consumer service can provide advice on how customers can resolve problems with their energy provider. For complex or urgent cases, or if a person is vulnerable, they may then be referred on to the ‘extra help unit’.
The StepChange Debt Charity also provides support for those struggling financially.
– Make your home more eco-friendly
Improving your insulation, upgrading your boiler and appliances, and installing solar panels or other renewable technologies will reduce your energy bill. However, these are long term, and often costly solutions so looking at grant schemes available will be vital.
– Use less energy in the home
Simple things such as turning off the lights and appliances, doing laundry at 30C, bleeding radiators and having shorter showers can cut your energy usage in the home significantly. This will mean your energy bill will be much lower.
– Get a smart meter
This keeps your bills accurate and will save you the hassle of sending your meter readings regularly. You should still check all your direct debit transactions to ensure they are correct.
– Choose energy-efficient appliances
If you are replacing any items, try to choose energy-efficient versions. The easiest way to check this is looking at its EU energy efficiency rating. You can also check specific appliances with Which?.
According to Which?, an energy-efficient tumble dryer can save you £106 per year, a fridge freezer can save £76 and a washing machine could save £55.
– Draught-proof your house
Use draft proofing strips on your windows, doors, floorboards and skirting to prevent heat getting out.
This will mean you can have your heating on a lower temperature for less time, and still be warm through winter.
Draught-proofing foam strips can also be used on your loft hatches and in a chimney or fireplace to block any gaps.