UK Energy Crisis: What Does It Mean For Your Business?
The UK energy crisis has had a domino effect across the sector, and businesses are in no way immune. Find out what to do if your business energy supplier goes bust, and how to get help with your energy bills, by reading our guide below.
You can’t move for headlines about the UK energy crisis. And for good reason – alongside rapidly rising inflation, the sharp spike in energy prices is having a significant impact on the cost of living for most Brits.
But it is not just domestic households affected by the UK’s energy crisis. The nation’s businesses – especially the 5.3 million micro businesses that total 95% of the country’s business sector – are also facing steeper energy bills, which may pose real problems for their bottom line.
Below we take a look at what has caused the UK energy crisis, how it is affecting businesses, and what steps you can take if you are worried about your business energy bills.
What is the UK energy crisis?
A staggering increase in the cost of wholesale natural gas – which hit a record high in December 2021, though has since fallen – has had a significant effect on the UK energy market.
Driven by, among other factors, the 2020/21 cold snap in Europe, rising global demand and supply issues from Russia, the increase in energy costs has put multiple energy firms out of business in the UK.
This is because those energy suppliers were unable to pass on the increase in costs to the thousands and millions of customers they had locked in on fixed-term contracts, or who were protected by the energy price cap (which is set to rise again on 1 April 2022).
The remaining energy suppliers, meanwhile, will gradually be passing this increase in costs on to their domestic customers, who could now be facing an average annual energy bill of £2,000.
How are businesses affected by the UK energy crisis?
Businesses are affected by the UK energy crisis in essentially the same way as households are: they will be paying (a lot) more money for their energy bills.
The worry for businesses is that they have less protection than domestic consumers when it comes to energy. Namely, the energy price cap does not apply to the nation’s businesses, regardless of their size.
Business energy contracts are typically longer than their domestic counterparts, potentially lasting up to five years. So, for the moment, some businesses that have existing contracts will be shielded from rising prices.
However, there will be lots of businesses that need to renew their contacts this year, as well as others that will be on variable tariffs that are already seeing their bills increase.
What happens if my business energy supplier goes bust?
The advice for businesses when it comes to suppliers going bust is much the same as for households: wait to be contacted.
The Office for Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) recommends that if your business energy provider were to collapse:
- Take a meter reading to make sure you have your up-to-date usage. If you cannot take a meter reading for any reason, contact Citizens Advice if you are in England or Wales, Advice Direct if you are in Scotland, or Advice NI if you live in Northern Ireland.
- Wait for Ofgem to find you a new supplier, rather than actively switching to one yourself or cancelling your direct debit. This should take a maximum of 14 days.
- Once you have a new provider, you will be put on what’s known as a deemed contract, i.e. one you haven’t chosen, rather than your old tariff. This will likely be more expensive than your old tariff. You can then either sign a new contract with this supplier, or shop around for a better deal.
You should know that if your supplier does go bust, your energy won’t be disconnected. And if an administrator takes over your supplier, you are free to switch to a different provider at any time.
However, you should be aware that it is not guaranteed that any credit will be carried over between suppliers, as business credit balances are not protected by the Ofgem Safety Net.
As for any business energy debts, whether or not you will need to pay these off will depend on the terms of the switch as dictated by the administrator.
What can I do if I can’t pay my business energy bills?
If you are feeling the financial pressure of rising business energy costs, there are a number of different options you might want to consider.
If you are in debt to your supplier
If you are presently in debt to your business energy supplier and cannot pay your bills, it is important to take immediate steps to prevent being disconnected, which itself may come with a fee.
You can call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 in order to get advice about how to resolve your issues, or contact them via their online energy problem chat service.
You might also want to contact Money Advice Trust’s Business Debtline for further help with your business debts if your business is based in England, Wales and Scotland.
If you cannot afford your bill
If you have received a business energy bill that you cannot afford, then you may need to come up with a payment plan with your supplier.
This could involve asking for a payment reduction or for more time to pay off your bill.
You can also contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline mentioned above.
What can I do to reduce my business energy bills?
To combat the costs of the UK energy crisis, there are certain steps you can try to take to reduce your business energy bill.
Make sure you are being billed correctly
Although you may need to expect higher business energy bills in the coming months, it is still important to make sure you are being billed correctly. This is especially true if your supplier is only estimating your usage, rather than basing your bill on accurate meter readings or, better yet, a smart meter.
When it comes to your business energy bill, you should also know your rights as a micro business. You cannot be ‘back billed’ – i.e. charged for energy your supplier failed to bill you for – as a micro business for any energy used over 12 months ago.
Improve your business’s energy efficiency
A notable way you can cut your business energy usage, and therefore your bill, is by making your business more energy efficient.
Many of the energy savings tips you would use at home can be applied to how you run your business, from turning off electrical items overnight, to switching to LED bulbs, checking your insulation, and monitoring your heating.
It is best to be thorough when trying to improve energy efficiency. One way to do this is by carrying out an energy audit.
» MORE: How to create an energy audit
See if you have a business energy claim
Although a business energy claim itself won’t cut your bills, it might help you find some extra money for your payments.
If you believe you were mis-sold your business energy bill by an energy broker – for example, if they were not up front about how they were getting paid, or you were pressured to choose a specific tariff or supplier, you may have a claim.
Check if you are eligible for any business energy grants
There are numerous different grants available that can potentially help you cover some of your business energy bills.
This can range from supplier incentives to make your business more energy efficient to government and local council schemes designed to help small businesses in general.
Switch your business energy supplier
While business energy bills are going up, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to find a better deal when it comes time for you to switch suppliers.
NerdWallet’s business energy comparison tool can help you find the right tariff for your specific needs.
» COMPARE: Business energy with NerdWallet
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Connor is a writer and spokesperson for NerdWallet. Previously at Spreadex, his market commentary has been quoted in the likes of the BBC, The Guardian, Evening Standard, Reuters and The Independent. Read more