Coronavirus: 14 million UK households face £288m energy bill shock

Household energy consumption is estimated to have risen by £16 a month as people spend more time at home under lockdown, according new research. (Getty)

Almost 14 million UK households are set for a £288m ($362m) energy bill shock as months of increased power use during the coronavirus lockdown is belatedly added to bills.

Research from comparison and switching service Uswitch.com, showed that official meter readers have not been able to visit properties due to the lockdown, meaning that current bills may not accurately reflect the amount of energy households have used.

Household energy consumption is estimated to have risen by £16 a month as people spend more time at home under lockdown.

Nearly a fifth of bill payers (19%), amounting to more than two million households, rely on their energy provider to visit their property and take meter readings.

It could be more than six months before these households see their bill change, as lockdown restrictions have prevented meter readers from visiting homes for the last three months. This could lead to direct debits shooting up by as much as £25 a month in September, a total of £288m across 14 million households.

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The price rise is likely to hit vulnerable households harder, with 21% of people rely on meter readers being over 65, or having a disability or a long-term medical condition.

Energy users who submit their own meter readings could also be in for a shock as more than 11 million households have not submitted a reading for an average of two months and six days. This means they last submitted readings before the lockdown began and their bills do not currently reflect how much their energy use has risen due to spending more time at home.

These customers could see an extra £20 slapped on their bills when their increased energy use is added to their direct debits.

Many people have issues reading their energy meters, with almost one in ten (7%) adults saying they don’t even know where theirs is, according to Uswitch.com. Younger people find this the most challenging, with a fifth (18%) of 18- to 34-year-olds unable to locate their meter.

Will Owen, energy expert at Uswitch.com, said: “The lockdown has forced millions of us to use more energy, but many bills aren’t yet reflecting this. 

“Checking your meter takes a matter of minutes once you know where it’s located and which numbers to report on. If you can give your supplier an accurate reading, they reward you with an accurate bill — rather than give you a nasty surprise later on.

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“As a rule of thumb, it is worth checking your meter once a month, especially if your energy consumption has changed recently.”

Many people struggle to read their energy meters, with almost one in ten (7%) adults saying they don’t even know where their meter is, according to Uswitch.com. Younger people find this the most challenging, with a fifth (18%) of 18- to 34-year-olds unable to locate their meter.