More than five million UK households have overpaid on their gas bills and are in credit by a total of £454million, moneysupermarket.com has revealed.
Each of the households are in credit by an average £89, allowing gas providers a significant cash float at a time when households are feeling the effects of the recession, and also denying them interest on the cash.
Even though consumers are being left £454million of pocket, largely as a result of inaccurate meter readings, 80 per cent of those owed money by their gas supplier would not ask for it back, leaving as much as £363million unclaimed.
Meanwhile, almost two million households are in debt to their gas supplier, by a total of £280million, an average of £151 per person; and, 241,000 of them cannot afford to repay the debt.
Scott Byrom, utilities manager at price comparison website moneysupermarket.com, said that this year's figures are an improvement on 2008, when gas suppliers were holding £225million of their customer's money.
But, while the decrease in energy debt from last year is "encouraging", this year's total still gives "cause for concern", Mr Byrom said.
He suspects that the reductions in online energy tariffs have contributed to in-credit balances this year, when customers have not changed the amount they pay by direct debit to reflect the price changes.
Mr Byrom deems consumers' apathy in reclaiming their money "a clear oversight" at a time when many Brits are feeling the pinch.
The number of consumers in debt to their gas supplier is not only a sign of the hard financial times, but also prevents them from moving to a different provider to get a better deal.
While many are unable to repay their debt, an apathetic 53 per cent do not have any intention of trying to tackle their gas debt problem, hoping that it will decrease over time.
Mr Byrom said: "The amount of people who have found themselves in debt to their supplier is concerning, as is the number of bill payers unable to pay this money back. We are facing a very competitive market at the moment, with prices changing constantly. Those in debt will not be able to change their supplier until the money is paid back, thereby limiting their chances of finding the best deal available to them."
Mr Byrom suggests that bill payers review their direct debits every six months to ensure that they are paying an appropriate amount, which will leave them neither in debt nor out of pocket.
© Fair Investment Company Ltd