Families face a dark winter as experts predict the ceiling on energy bills will hit nearly £3,600 a year from October – before rising again next year (Purple Marbles/Alamy/PA)

Families are facing a dark winter as experts predict the ceiling on energy bills will hit nearly £3,600 a year from October – before rising again next year.

It is a forecast that will pressure the government to act quickly and spell out the pain of more than 20 million households.

The observation window – when regulator Ofgem watches the market to decide what the cap will be – closed on Thursday, so the prediction is more certain than ever.

The regulator is about to announce the new price cap, which will come into effect from October next Friday.

Auxilione, an energy consultancy, said its final forecast is that authorities will set the cap at £3,576 a year for the average household.

The cap is currently £1,971.

Time is running out before October and we know that many customers are already struggling after the latest price hike. The planned increases will therefore simply be unaffordable for millions of households.

Dhara Vyas, Energy UK

The £3,576 marks a drop of £62 from Auxilione’s previous forecast and the consultancy’s first significant drop in expectations for weeks.

Experts say a recent change in Ofgem is to thank for the lower forecast.

“Ofgem have highlighted a potential change they are considering internally to remove around £100 from the cap (in an allowance).

“We’ve included it here, hence the reduction from previous forecasts.”

But despite this ray of light, much of the rest of the forecast contains pain for households.

“Today’s market has once again made new highs, so the rest of the price caps continue to soar,” the experts said.

Based on Thursday’s petrol prices, they believe the price cap will hit £4,704 next January and £5,856 in April.

It will then fall but remain at staggering levels, hitting £5,235 in July and £5,235 next October.

Given the urgency, our industry believes the most practical way to help customers ahead of Christmas will be to increase the amount of assistance provided through the existing Bill Support Scheme.

Dhara Vyas, Energy UK

The cap affects how much a household pays per unit of gas or electricity it consumes. This is not an overall cap, so families that use a lot of energy will have higher bills, and by reducing their energy use, people can save on their bills.

The figure in pounds, provided by Ofgem, is based on what an average household uses in a year.

The forecast will provide ammunition for those demanding action from ministers to protect families from the pain of a cold winter.

Labor and the Liberal Democrats have suggested plans to freeze bills at the same level as today, while many of the biggest energy providers have backed a similar idea.

But the government has made it clear that it will not do anything substantial until a new prime minister takes office on September 5.

The energy companies trade body on Thursday called for more support on top of the £400 pledged to households in May.

“Time is running out before October and we know many customers are already struggling after the latest price hike. So the planned increases will simply be unaffordable for millions of households,” said Dhara Vyas, Advocacy Director of Energy UK.

“Given the urgency, our industry believes the most practical way to help customers before Christmas will be to increase the amount of help given through the existing bill support scheme.

“However, energy bills are expected to remain high for the foreseeable future, so it will be crucial to have something in place that will protect customers from these.

“A government-backed loan program could help do just that by spreading the costs of an exceptionally volatile few months over a much longer period.”

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