A high street decorated with British Union Jack bunting in Penistone, UK. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has warned “a tsunami of fuel poverty will hit the country this winter.”
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LONDON — Facing soaring energy bills, rising costs and rapidly declining consumer purchasing power, small businesses across the U.K. are struggling to make ends meet.
New data on Wednesday showed U.K. inflation jumped to a 40-year high of 10.1% in July as food and energy costs continued to soar, exacerbating the country’s cost-of-living crisis.
The Bank of England expects consumer price inflation to top out at 13.3% in October, with the country’s average energy bills (set via a price cap) expected to rise sharply in the fourth quarter to eventually exceed an annual £4,266 ($5,170) in early 2023.
On Wednesday, a director of U.K. energy regulator Ofgem quit over its decision to add hundreds of pounds to household bills, accusing the watchdog of failing to strike the “right balance between the interests of consumers and the interests of suppliers.”
Real wages in the U.K. fell by an annual 3% in the second quarter of 2022, the sharpest decline on record, as wage increases failed to keep pace with the surging cost of living.
A new survey published Friday also showed consumer confidence falling to its lowest level since records began in 1974.
“While the energy price caps do not apply to businesses directly, millions of small business owners are still experiencing increased energy bills at a time when costs are rising in most operational areas,” said Alan Thomas, U.K. CEO at insurance firm Simply Business.
“Simultaneously, consumer purchasing power is going down as Brits cut back on non-essential spending, harming the books of SME [small and medium-sized enterprise] owners.”
This assessment was echoed by Christopher Gammon, e-commerce manager at Lincs Aquatics — a Lincolnshire-based store and warehouse providing aquariums, ponds and marine livestock.
The business has seen its energy costs rise by 90% so far since the war in Ukraine began, Gammon told CNBC on Thursday, and its owners are provisioning for further increases in the coming months.
“We are combating the rising cost with switching everything to LED, solar panels, wind turbines (planning in process) and closing down unused systems,” Gammon said.
“We have also had to increase the price of products — most of these have been livestock as they are now costing more to look after.”
Customers are increasingly withdrawing from keeping fish and reptiles due to the cost of maintenance, and on Wednesday the store had a customer bring in a snake they could no longer afford to care for.
The spiraling costs forced Lincs Aquatics to close a store in East Yorkshire, laying off several workers, while trying to offer pay rises to staff at its two remaining locations in Lincolnshire in…