UK households spent an average of £106 a month on household energy in 2012. This was a 55% rise on the 2002 monthly spend, after accounting for inflation – despite a decline in average energy usage.
And average household bills in Scotland and Northern Ireland are substantially higher than the average household in other UK countries (see graphic, at foot)
These are the two key findings in the latest annual household spending survey, published today by the UK Office of National Statistics.
Average household energy use has fallen for a number of reasons. These include the installation of energy efficiency measures (such as loft and wall insulation, and more efficient boilers), households responding to higher bills by reducing use, and generally increasing public awareness of energy consumption and environmental issues. However, energy prices have risen faster than average household consumption has fallen, resulting in rising average bills.
.The higher average spend in Northern Ireland may be partly explained by the different nature and size of the energy market there. Due to a relatively limited gas network, many homes in Northern Ireland rely on oil-fired central heating, which is likely to lead to higher energy costs (the Northern Ireland House Conditions survey found that 68% of households used heating oil for central heating). Additionally, in those areas where mains gas is available, the market is not yet fully open to competition, with only a single supplier operating in some areas.
Across the rest of the UK, any differences in the average energy spend are very small. The average monthly spend in Scotland is slightly higher than in England and Wales, consistent with DECC figures on energy consumption per household.
The Household Energy Survey also reveals that average household spending on gas increased 56%, while average spending on electricity increased 43% between 2002 and 2012, after accounting for inflation.
The poorest fifth of households spent 11% of their income on household energy in 2012, up from 8% in 2002. The richest fifth spent just 3% in 2012 up from 2% in 2002.
This increase is explained by energy prices rising at a faster rate than incomes. Although, after adjusting for inflation, disposable incomes for the poorest fifth of households grew by around 11% between 2002 and 2012, average spend on energy rose by 51%.
Margaret Lynch, Chief Executive, Citizens’ Advice Scotland, commented: “Scots are paying so much for their energy, they deserve a quality service, and it’s clear they are not getting that.
“Eight years of failure to get bills right is eight years too many. Our own figures show that nearly a third (29%) of Scots calling our national helpline about energy problems were calling about incorrect billing, so there’s a long way to go before energy suppliers regain the trust of Scottish consumers.
“We would urge consumers to stand up for themselves and complain to their energy supplier when they are not happy with their service. For help and advice on making a complaint, or reclaiming over-payments, consumers can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline – 08454 040506.
“Last year we won back a quarter of a million pounds for energy consumers in situations like this, so it’s worth getting good advice.”