Britain’s third-biggest energy supplier has apologised and said it was “embarrassed” after it advised customers to keep their heatings bills low by “having a cuddle with your pets”, eating “hearty bowls of porridge” and “doing a few star jumps”.
MPs called the guidance issued by a division of Ovo Energy on Monday “insulting” and “offensive”, as millions of UK households are facing a “cost of living catastrophe” in the spring, including a rise in energy bills to as much as £2,000 a year on 1 April for an average household on a direct debit tariff.
The email sent out to customers of SSE Energy Services, which Ovo acquired in 2020, listed 10 “simple and cost effective ways to keep warm this winter”, such as “sticking to non-alcoholic drinks”, doing household chores, having “a cuddle with your pets and loved ones to help stay cosy” and “encouraging blood flow” by eating ginger but avoiding chilli “as it makes you sweat”.
Customers were also advised to “get moving” by “challenging the kids to a hula-hoop contest”, and to drink more water, alongside the warning that the “warming feeling from wine or whisky is temporary as you’ll soon lose heat from your core and end up feeling even colder”, the Financial Times reported.
The Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers said the advice was probably well intentioned but simultaneously “pretty insensitive”.
“Many people are very anxious about rising energy bills and won’t take kindly to being told to do some star jumps,” she said.
The Labour MP Darren Jones, who also chairs the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said the company should apologise to its customers.
“Being told to put on a jumper instead of turning on your heating if you can’t afford it, at a time of such difficulty for so many families, is plainly offensive,” he said.
Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said the recommendations were “clown-like” and “depressing”.
“It is laughable and insulting, but then with this government’s lack of an energy strategy you almost expect it,” he said, adding that the email “will be read by people who have to choose between eating and heating, […] if that’s the state of the country we are now in I find it quite depressing”.
Record wholesale price increases for gas and electricity have prompted the government to examine possible ways of mitigating the effect on household bills, after Tory MPs called on Boris Johnson to act and help consumers.
Campaigners fear fuel poverty could hit the highest level since records began unless the government intervenes, warning that 6m UK homes may be unable to pay energy bills after a further price hike in spring.
Ovo said: “We understand how difficult the situation will be for many of our customers this year. We are working hard to find meaningful solutions as we approach this energy crisis, and we recognise that the content of this blog was poorly judged and unhelpful. We are embarrassed and sincerely apologise.”