Ministers have sought to reassure the public over winter gas supplies and hikes in bills, as they insisted the energy price cap will “remain in place”.
It comes after Boris Johnson stressed the government would do “whatever we can” to keep gas supplies flowing and preventing the collapse of firms, but declined to give an assurance it would not last for months.
The prime minister also declined to say whether official action could include the temporary suspension of the energy price cap.
But speaking after a roundtable of industry leaders — and before an update to the Commons on the situation — business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he “reiterated the need for all of us to prioritise consumers”.
“My task is to ensure that any energy supplier failures cause the least amount of disruption for consumers,” he added.
“In any scenario, we will ensure UK consumers have continuity of supply — through a supplier of last resort or special administrator if needed. The energy price cap protects millions of consumers. It will remain in place.”
His remarks, however, came as research from the Resolution Foundation think-tank suggested that four in ten households on universal credit face a 13 per cent hike in energy bills in the same month the benefit is to be cut by £20-per-week – a move widely condemned by anti-poverty campaigners.
The organisation said that 4.4 million claimants could see their bills increase significantly, with families on universal credit also four times as likely as the wider population to use pre-payment meters for energy.
Earlier, No 10 failed to completely rule out the prospect of the price cap being scrapped, but did insist there were currently no planned changes to the measure.
Quizzed on whether the government was considering get rid of the price cap, the prime minister’s spokesperson said it “remains in place” to “protect consumers from sudden increases in global prices and it will save them money this winter”.
“Well, again, as I say, the energy price cap remains in place, and I’m not aware of any change to that at all,” they added, when pressed again.
“It’s in place to protect people’s energy bills,” the spokesperson said. “That’s what it does, that’s what it has done, and as I say, it’ll continue to do so.”
The No 10 spokesperson also stressed that the UK food chain was “incredibly resilient” amid warnings of shortages due to lack of CO2, which has threatened meat production and the distribution of frozen food.
“We’ve got a highly resilient food supply chain in the UK, we’ve seen that throughout the pandemic, and we will obviously continue to work with industries that are facing issues to ensure that remains the case”.
Quizzed on whether the country faced a “winter of discontent”, the official added the government was “confident that the security of supply is not a cause for immediate concern in terms of energy”.
Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, however, said: “A basic duty of government is to ensure secure, affordable energy supplies for businesses and consumers. It is a fundamental failure of long-term government planning over the last decade that we are so exposed and vulnerable as a country and it is families and businesses that are paying the price.
“The government must take all necessary steps to ensure stability for customers and do everything in its powers to mitigate the effects of this crisis on businesses and consumers.”