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BIG SQUEEZE: Bills to Jump by £139-per-year as Pandemic Inflation Grips

ENERGY bills will jump for 15 million households in Britain who are set to see an increase by at least £139 to a record high from October due to a rise in wholesale prices, the UK’s energy regulator has announced.

Watchdog Ofgem said on Friday that energy customers on default tariffs paying by direct debit will see the sharpest jump in prices since the cap was introduced, taking average bills to £1,277.

Pre-payment customers will see costs rise by £153, from £1,156 to £,1309.

The increase has been driven by a rise of more than 50% in energy costs over the last six months, with gas prices hitting a record high as inflation jumped amid the easing of pandemic restrictions, Ofgem said.

Chief executive Jonathan Brearley said: “This is clearly a difficult decision to make.

“Higher energy bills are never welcome and the timing and size of this increase will be particularly difficult for many families still struggling with the impact of the pandemic.”

“The price cap means suppliers only pass on legitimate costs of supplying energy and cannot charge more than the level of the price cap, although they can charge less.”

“If you’re struggling to pay your bill you can get in touch with your supplier to access the help that’s available and, if possible, shop around for a better deal.”

“I appreciate this is extremely difficult news for many people. My commitment to customers is that Ofgem will continue to do everything we can to ensure they are protected this winter, especially those in vulnerable circumstances.”

INFLATION SET TO HIT 4% 

BANK of England chiefs warned that inflation will hit 4% this year as the post pandemic squeeze hits Brits. 

Despite the rise, the BoE said Britain’s robust recovery from the pandemic is accelerating at a blistering pace, hinting that a modest increase in interest rates next year might be needed to keep rising prices in check.

With most of the economy open and businesses reporting strong sales, the central bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) said the economy would grow by 8% in 2021 – up from a forecast in May of 7.25% – to regain its pre-pandemic level of activity by the end of this year, rather than spring 2022.

Keeping the current base rate at 0.1%, the MPC forecast that the rise in inflation was likely to be temporary as the current surge in energy and imported goods began to wane, pushing down prices growth next year towards its 2% target.

However an increase in interest rates is likely sometime over the next 12 months to make sure inflation continues to fall back, though any rise will be modest to maintain the recovery.

“CPI inflation has risen markedly, to above the monetary policy committee’s target of 2%, and is projected to rise temporarily to 4% in the near term. The rise largely reflects the impact of the pandemic as the economy recovers,” the Bank said in its latest monetary policy report.

“This has led to higher energy and goods prices, which in turn reflect rising commodity prices, transportation bottlenecks, constraints on production and strong global demand for goods. As such, above-target inflation is expected to be transitory, as commodity prices stabilise, supply shortages ease and global demand rebalances,” it added.

Some City analysts said the bank’s quarterly economic health check showed there was pressure from inside the MPC to increase the cost of borrowing earlier than previously expected and possibly as soon as spring next year.

“If there is no other major wave of Covid-19 during the winter and the economy performs in line with the Bank’s forecasts, the first rate rise is likely to come in the spring or early summer of next year,” said Ian Stewart, the chief economist at the consultancy Deloitte.

Others said there could be a delay to any tightening of monetary policy until 2023. Marchel Alexandrovich, and economist at the investment bank Jefferies, said officials wanted to maintain flexibility and “any serious discussion around the timing and the extent of future rate rises is unlikely to start until well into next year at the earliest”.

Hugh Gimber, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, said the UK domestic outlook was strong, but “uncertainty linked to the Delta variant and the phasing out of the furlough scheme” made policymakers wary of any premature withdrawal of support.

The Bank is due to complete its current QE programme by injecting the last £50bn into the economy by the end of the year.

The fresh forecast for growth in 2021 would make it the fastest since 1941, when Britain’s war machine was working at full capacity during the second world war and GDP expanded by 8.7%.

It predicted that UK GDP rose by 5% in April-June, higher than forecast three months ago, as the easing of lockdown restrictions boosted growth. 

But it also warned that recent developments in the pandemic meant growth in the third quarter of 2021 would be “somewhat weaker than expected in the May report” at 3%, pointing to the “sharp increase in the number of people being asked to self-isolate temporarily” since its last meeting in late June.

Officials at Threadneedle Street said the swift recovery would combine with shortages of raw materials and energy prices to send inflation 4% for the first time since 2011 when it reached 5% before falling back to zero, mostly driven by the see-sawing price of oil.

The MPC also said it was mindful of statements by Rishi Sunak that in the autumn, the Treasury would announce plans to cut back on government spending next year, reducing the growth potential of the economy.

Additional Reporting by PA Media and The Guardian 

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