New PM to cut more than £1,000 from household bills over the next two years - though help for businesses will last just six months

Liz Truss has unveiled plans to borrow vast sums of money in order to cap annual household energy bills at £2,500 for the next two years, declaring “this is the time to be bold”.

The new prime minister’s plans are expected to cost up to £150bn, more than double the cost of the £70bn furlough scheme, and will save households more than £1,000 a year on their energy bill.

Liz Truss energy 2

Liz Truss announcing the plans in the House of Commons today

Businesses, charities and public sector organisations will be offered an “equivalent guarantee” over the next six months to help with their energy costs this winter, Truss said.

After this period, targeted support will be provided to vulnerable sectors which will be identified in a review due to be carried out within the next three months by business secretary Jacob Rees Mogg.

In the meantime, Truss said that “companies with wherewithal need to be looking for ways they can improve energy efficiency and increase direct energy generation”.

The prime minister is also lifting the ban on fracking and will hand out more than 100 new oil and gas drilling licences in the North Sea as part of an effort to ramp up the UK’s domestic energy supplies.

Truss also unveiled a new target for the UK to become net energy exporter by 2040, and said Rees Mogg would set out a plan in the next two months which would outline how this could be achieved.

The government’s price guarantee comes in addition to the energy support scheme drawn up by former chancellor Rishi Sunak which will see households handed £400 in instalments over the next six months to help with fuel costs over winter.

The plans come as households brace for a rise of annual energy bills to around £3,500 next month from the current cap of £1,971 because of an international shortage of fuel due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Wearing a badge showing the Ukraine flag flying next to the Union Jack, Truss said in parliament today as she announced the plans: “This is the moment to be bold. We are facing a global energy crisis, and there are no cost free options.”

She added that the government are “tackling the root causes of high prices so we are never in the same position again”.

But the plans, which will include a temporary suspension of green levies on energy - taxes which are used to fund renewable energy initiatives - were criticised for supporting the use of fossil fuels.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the measures would “lock us into further dependence on fossil fuels”, adding that the crisis over rising fuel costs had fundamentally been caused by dependence on gas. 

“It won’t be solved by extracting more gas and it certainly won’t be solved by a resumption of fracking, which would be a disaster for the climate,” the Brighton MP said.

She also called for a retrofit “revolution” and lowering bills by investing in home insulation and renewable energy upgrades.

Reaction in the construction industry was mixed, with Builders Merchants Federation chief executive John Newcomb saying the trade body was pleased Truss had acted quickly to protect consumers from escalating energy costs but disappointed that support for businesses was only guarenteed for six months.

“The extreme price volatility in the wholesale market over the summer has seen some firms experience electricity costs fluctuating by up to 300% on a day-to-day basis,” Newcomb said.

“This situation is likely to be exacerbated by Russia’s indefinite closure of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany, and energy-intensive manufacturing businesses need the certainty provided by a longer-term support package.”

He also echoed Lucas’ calls for home energy efficiency-improving retrofits, saying there was an urgent need for Truss to ”understand the enormity of the capacity and capability of the workforce needed as part of a National Retrofit Strategy to decarbonise buildings and electrify heating”.

Ian McDermott, chief executive of housing association Peabody, said that while the government’s plans would make “some difference” to energy bills, more needed to be done to tackle the “injustices” face by people on low incomes.

“Our customers were worried about the cost of energy long before the current crisis, with many already making the stark choice between heating and eating,” he said.

“With more than one in 10 people saying they have borrowed from short-term high-interest lenders to pay their energy bills; I am extremely concerned about rising debt and the impact this will have on people’s mental and physical wellbeing.”

Dan Brooks, director at developer Moda Living, welcomed the measures but urged Truss to lower bills by focusing on accelerating the development of UK-based renewable energy sources.

He said: ”Inflated gas prices driving up costs across the country while the biggest players line their pockets with huge profits is outrageous and nonsensical.

“To resolve this issue for the long term we urgently need an accessible priced, renewable network of energy that protects the planet from damage and its people from hugely inflated energy costs.”

UK gas producers and electricity suppliers could make excess profits of as much as £170bn over the next two years, according to Treasury estimates.

But Truss has ruled out placing a ‘windfall’ tax on energy companies, saying the move would discourage the investment needed to secure homegrown energy supplies.

How the government’s price guarantee will work

Price caps for energy bills limit how much consumers can be charged for an individual unit of energy, known as a kilowatt hour.

Currently the cap, which is set by energy regulator Ofgem and based on wholesale prices of energy, produces annual bills for the avergae UK household of £1,971.

But this is due to rise to more than £3,500 from October, and could top £5,000 at Ofgem’s next quarterly review in January. Ofgem announced in August that these reviews will now take place every three months, instead of six months as was previously the case, because of the volatility in global energy markets caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Truss’s plans would cap the cost of individual kilowatt hours, resulting in bills for an average UK household of around £2,500. If a household uses more than the average amount of energy, for example by turning up the heating high or boiling the kettle frequently, they would pay more than that amount.