Boris Johnson will on Tuesday promise to crack down on “unacceptable behaviour” by companies that are considered to be unfairly pushing up bills for UK households already facing a cost of living crisis.
Johnson will convene a cabinet meeting in which ministers will be told to come up with “innovative ways to ease pressure on household finances”, without running up new costs to the Treasury, Downing Street said.
Among the measures will be a commitment that ministers will be vigilant in the event that companies are making things worse. “Private companies must play their part,” Number 10 said.
Johnson’s allies cite as an example the letter sent by Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, to Ofgem, asking the energy regulator to look at claims power companies were making unjustified increases to customers’ direct debits.
Rishi Sunak, chancellor, is expected to set out in the autumn a new package of financial support for consumers facing soaring energy bills, but for now wants to avoid running up new bills for the Treasury.
Labour has claimed that the government is failing to show enough urgency in tackling the crisis in living costs and that families cannot wait until the autumn for more support.
One idea promoted by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit opportunities minister, is to extend for a fourth time a moratorium on full post-Brexit import checks on goods coming from the EU.
New checks are supposed to come into effect on July 1, imposing new costs on consumers and complicating supply chains; Johnson’s aides expect the deadline will be extended again.
Ministers will also publicise the fact that people are not claiming all of the support to which they are already entitled. Downing Street said 1.3mn families could be taking up government support through tax-free childcare.
Meanwhile, there are an estimated 850,000 eligible households not claiming pension credit, which could be worth over £3,300 a year for pensioners.
The cost of living crisis is having an increasingly severe effect, with many households finding it difficult to pay bills and being forced to borrow money, according to data published on Monday by the Office for National Statistics.
Almost nine in 10 adults in Britain said they saw a rise in their cost of living between March 16 and 27, up from 62 per cent in November, the ONS said.
Higher prices for food, energy bills and fuel were the most common reasons for the increase, it added.
For many, that meant struggling to pay to warm their house. Two in five people said it was difficult to afford their energy bills — a proportion that jumped to nearly 60 per cent among the most deprived households.
A greater percentage of renters found it very difficult or difficult to pay usual household bills compared with those with mortgages, the ONS data showed.
Among those who said they had gas or electricity supplied to their home, 6 per cent reported being behind on gas or electricity bills in March.
As a result, close to one in five said they had to borrow more money or buy more on credit. More than half of the population also cut spending on non-essential goods and services and many reduced energy consumption, the data showed.