Millions of people were left waiting too long for energy support due to a lack of government “bandwidth”, according to a report from the cross-party Public Accounts Committee.
More than a million households became eligible for support too late, while a further two million homes using prepayment meters have yet to redeem their £400 voucher, according to the committee report on the energy bills support scheme.
As many as 900,000 households only became eligible for the £400-off energy bills support scheme in late February, nearly five months after consumers began receiving discounts on the main scheme, the report says. Those were houses without a direct relationship with an electricity supplier, including those living in park homes or on boats.
A further 836,000 residences in Northern Ireland only began receiving their £400 off energy bills in January 2023, three months later than in the rest of the UK.
There were a remaining two million households in Great Britain on prepayment meters in February yet to redeem vouchers for their £400 payment, the report added.
The department tasked with administering the payments – the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – told the committee it did not have the bandwidth to make sure support reached all groups in a timely way.
It acknowledged it is also the duty of electricity suppliers to ensure vouchers are redeemed.
While the department has since been split up, the committee said it should analyse which groups of households have not redeemed their vouchers and outline further action to increase retrieval rates.
“Serious concerns” were raised over the government’s “lack of urgency” in addressing the energy market failures that are leading to high energy bills for consumers, the report says.
“The Treasury and [the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero] have also not fully grasped the pressures the non-domestic sector will face after the energy bill relief scheme ended in March 2023, or the potential risk of insolvencies,” it says.
The universal nature of the energy support was criticised in the report as homes and businesses that did not need support received it anyway.
Despite the plans in operation last winter, the government is not prepared for the coming winter, according to the committee.
“Almost halfway through the year we have not yet seen plans to ensure energy affordability for the coming winter,” committee chair Dame Meg Hillier said.
“As a matter of urgency, the government must show it’s clear not just on how households and businesses will be protected in any future price rises, but how to ensure resilience in the sector as a whole.”
The government has also been urged to invest any unspent resources on helping low-income and vulnerable homes by the chief executive of National Energy Action.
“That should support more than 2.5 million low-income and vulnerable households who are no longer receiving any government support,” Adam Scorer said.
“Without more targeted support this autumn and winter these households will be exposed to the worst of this ongoing crisis with all the dreadful consequences for health and wellbeing that we have seen day in and day out in recent times.”