A charity has called on energy companies to give their prepayment customers the “Christmas bonus” of a debt holiday until the summer when bills are lower.
Citizens Advice said prepayment customers, whose meters are often installed to recoup debts and who use a proportion of each top-up to cut down arrears, spent twice as much on their gas in winter compared to summer.
It said delaying debt repayments until the weather warmed up could prevent significant numbers of prepayment customers having to ration heat and hot water or cutting off their supply altogether.
New figures showed a 66 per cent increase in the number of people seeking online help about problems paying fuel bills between January and March compared to the rest of this year.
Ofgem’s Domestic Suppliers’ Social Obligation in 2013 report published last week showed around 300,000 new gas and 300,000 new electricity prepayment meters were installed last year, up 20 per cent on 2012.
Citizens Advice said its own survey had found prepayment customers were more likely to spend £20 or more each week in winter on gas compared to less than £10 a week in summer.
Last year Scottish Power offered its prepayment customers a debt holiday. Citizens Advice has written to all suppliers asking them to offer a similar break.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Delaying payments for debts will mean those people struggling to afford heat and light don’t have to make severe cut-backs.
“Energy suppliers have a real opportunity to help prepay customers this winter and begin to rebuild customers’ trust.”