Testimonies from the Energy Crisis

Research conducted at the University of Bristol, in collaboration with National Energy Action, has uncovered the lived experiences and behaviour changes made in some homes as people sought to reduce their energy bills in the winter of 2022/23. Using interviews and financial diary methods, researchers collected testimonies to understand experiences during the energy crisis, and how current and future policies might provide support.

This work found that energy security in the winter of 2022-23 came at a great cost to households, particularly in terms of strained finances, hidden labour, and social isolation. A key finding was that many felt that they had done all they could to save energy and that there was no more room to cut back further. This has been complicated by high inflation and interest rates.
Identified energy-saving strategies included: heating only one room in the house, reducing showering (in some cases to once a week), using candles for lighting, and reducing how often people see friends and family. Others resorted to borrowing from family members, cutting spending on essentials such as food, or running up debt arrears to ensure their children’s health. Many respondents reported rising energy prices leading to significant impacts on their
physical health, emotional wellbeing, and personal resilience.

The financial support provided by the government in the winter of 2022/23 worked for many: with respondents highlighting that it provided a sense of certainty about what assistance was available to prevent them from going into
deeper arrears and long-term financial insecurity. Despite this support, many households continued to face financial challenges driven by rising costs.

The phasing out of support – particularly in the next winter – risks eroding this security. Many feel that the greatest insecurity is not knowing what their bills will be, or what support will be available to them.


The Government should establish:

  • Proactive action to provide certainty for households ahead of cold weather energy needs: Respondents often spoke of the importance of certainty regarding what support was available to counter anxieties caused by increasing bills. Future policy being anticipatory, rather than reactive, will help households plan accordingly in the face of future changes.
  • Energy bill support should be tailored towards low-income households, including those in work: This work uncovered examples of how experiences and anxieties of rising bills were shared and similar across many households, including those in-work and out-of-work. These shared experiences highlighted broader issues that affect a household’s ability to pay rising bills. Future policy should not just link support to whether a household is in the social security system but seek to support all who are struggling.
  • A social tariff to recognise the right to cover basic energy needs: Vulnerable households should have access to energy at an affordable price. Providing discounted energy bills to those unable to afford rising prices would support those most in need and most vulnerable to fuel poverty.

Regulators and energy companies should devise:

  • Streamlined, visible financial support and consumer advice: Available support for households must be simplified and illuminated to all customers – allowing households to see and understand routes of support. This would address numerous concerns raised by respondents about the difficulty in accessing support and the necessity of extending available advice services.
  • Interventions to ensure a fairer distribution of bills through ending standing charges to prepayment customers. Whilst support should become more visible, the most effective form of support can be automatic and applied directly. Standing charges place a burden on those already struggling financially. Their removal, which could be implemented through the current Energy Price Guarantee, would allow policy support for households in- and out-of work.
  • Long-term strategies to mitigate bill arrears: Whilst energy prices may now be dropping, the consequences of last winter remain in the form of debts and bill arrears. A mechanism is needed to provide a longer-term route to reducing and managing these debts and support households in addressing their knock-on consequences.

Key Findings

Analysis of interviews and financial diaries uncovered seven key behaviour changes and experiences from the energy crisis:

Behaviour changes

1. Energy behaviours changed
2. Cutting back on essentials
3. Payments increased in frequency


4. Managing limited budgets is exhausting
5. Borrowing to pay energy bills increased
6. Living conditions deteriorated
7. Lack of support from energy providers

I feel it’s hit quality of life, we can’t do what we want to do anymore... we still can’t afford to take our foot off because we need to try and build up that little buffer zone of money in the bank to get us through next winter when potentially it could double again

Person in their 50s living in Northwest England


Ed Atkins, Caitlin Robinson, University of Bristol

Sara Davies, Sharon Collard,
Personal Finance Research Centre, University of Bristol
Matt Copeland, National Energy Action


The research team are grateful to those who took part in this research for sharing their experiences and perspectives. We would also like to thank the organisations who helped us recruit participants, and Joanne Godwin and David Collings for their support in conducting this research. This research was funded by the 2022 University of Bristol Policy Support Fund (Research England QR PSF 2022-24). Caitlin Robinson’s time is funded by a UKRI grant (MR/V021672/2).

Testimonies of the Energy Crisis Report

N‌ovember 2023

Atkins et al 2023 Testimonies from the Energy Crisis (PDF, 958kB)

Contact the Researchers

Dr Ed Atkins
Dr Caitlin Robinson

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