LONDON    -    British households on Friday faced an eye-watering 80-percent hike in electricity and gas bills, in a dramatic worsening of the cost-of-living crisis before winter as the country awaits a new leader.

Regulator Ofgem said its energy price cap, which sets prices for consumers who are not on a fixed deal with their supplier, will increase from October 1 to an average £3,549 ($4,197) per year from the current £1,971.

Worse is expected to come in January, when Ofgem next updates its cap, with average bills predicted to top £5,000 -- or more. 

Ofgem blamed the increase on the spike in global wholesale gas prices after the lifting of Covid restrictions and Russian restric­tions on supplies.

But it sparked out­cry about the effect on already financially squeezed households, pensioners and the sick -- and growing calls for people not to pay.

“Everybody’s gonna have trouble,” said Diane Skidmore, 72, who lives in social housing in south Lon­don and makes do on £600 a month.

She told AFP she would turn off her heating in winter and use blankets and jump­ers to try to keep her rocketing bills down.

The chief executive of Marie Curie cancer care charity, Matthew Reed, said terminally ill people it helps need specialist medical equipment and warned they “could freeze to death this winter with­out further support”.

UK inflation is al­ready in double-digits and forecast to strike 13 percent in the com­ing months due to run­away energy bills.

Inflation is at its highest level since 1982, with industrial action over pay grow­ing, and the country is predicted to enter re­cession later this year. 

The near-doubling in the energy cap will likely tip millions into fuel poverty, forcing them to choose be­tween heating or eat­ing, anti-poverty ex­perts say.

“Some parents are coming to us in tears, terrified about how they are going to feed their children,” said Rossanna Trudgian, head of campaigns and public affairs at Action for Children charity.

More than 115,000 have pledged to pro­test on October 1, said the Don’t Pay action group, which wants bills reduced to afford­able levels.

Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley acknowl­edged the difficulties. “I talk to customers regularly and I know that today’s news will be very worrying for many,” he said.