Rising energy bills are “literally a matter of life or death” for some people, the head of Ofgem has warned, as he said the sector as a whole has to “step up” to help customers.
Jonathan Brearley, the organisation’s chief executive, spoke out as he told how a woman suffering from cancer had said she feels “more comfortable” in hospital than at home, because of worry caused by rapidly rising energy bills.
Speaking at the All Energy event in Glasgow, Mr Brearley said: “I talk to customers on a regular basis, and I know how tough rising energy prices are for many households and businesses.
“For some, not being able to afford rising energy bills is literally a matter of life and death.”
As he told how rising prices were putting some people “under extraordinary strain”, he revealed one story “sticks out in my mind” , recounting that he had heard about a case of a woman unable to work after undergoing treatment for a brain tumour.
The Ofgem CEO told how the woman, who lives with her daughter, “has struggled to keep up with rising energy prices and is worried she will be forced to choose between heating and eating, even as she recovers from her illness”.
But he said: “What was shocking was to learn that she feels more comfortable in hospital where she can eat and be warm than at home.”
He said that in responding to “this unprecedented cost of living crisis”, Ofgem as the energy regulator, the industry as a whole, and others need to “do everything we can to look after customers”.
Mr Brearley added: “It’s going to require every ounce of innovative, creative thinking that we can collectively muster to find new ways to help customers.”
But he stressed the need for the regulator, energy companies and others to “step up and make sure we are looking after customers’ needs”.
Ofgem is changing the energy price cap to ensure it can “adapt more effectively to market conditions”, he said.
“Even by doing everything we can, none of us can solve or even mitigate this gas crisis alone, we need to work with Government,” Mr Brearley stated.
He added: “I cannot find a similar situation to the gas crisis in our post-war energy history.
“Business customers, the energy industry and many consumers, especially the vulnerable, are being put under extraordinary strain.
“As an industry, we cannot pretend that our actions can mitigate the full impact of future price rises.
“But we all must do everything within our power to help consumers.”
The Ofgem boss was also clear that surging energy prices, coupled with the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the sector, showed the need to “make the transition to net zero more quickly”.
Mr Brearley said: “Building a smarter, more strategic system that can use heat pumps, electric vehicle charges and other smart gadgets to shift demand will save consumers up to £4.5 billion a year.”