IT is, we’re told, going to be the “most expensive winter in history” as the cost-of-living squeeze seriously tightens its grip on consumers’ pockets not just here but across the whole of Europe.

If you thought things were bad, prepare yourself. Derek Lickorish, Chairman of energy company Utilita, explained how, in 2020, £50 of energy would have lasted 12 days. Now, with the expected price cap of £3,420 due to be confirmed on August 26, it would barely last four days.

“As we move on, it’s going to get less and less, so we have to do something really quite significant because we haven’t seen the worst of this yet,” he warned ominously.

This week, the UK Government announced £400 of help for some 29m households in Scotland, England and Wales, would be paid in six monthly instalments of £66. The financial package will cost nearly £12bn.

Caroline Flint, who chairs Whitehall’s advisory Committee on Fuel Poverty, urged UK ministers to urgently draw up a fuel poverty winter plan with more cash help for consumers.

The ex-Labour minister noted that official statistics showed some 3.2m households were in fuel poverty but this number was published prior to the energy price hikes. Some organisations, she said, believed it could be “double that or even more”.

A sense of urgency is growing. Which is not surprising given the eye-watering numbers.

Average annual energy bills were expected to rise to £2,800 in October but this calculation has been revised upwards to £3,420 because of the growing squeeze on supplies.

Worse still, the figure could jump to nearer £4,000 come January; more than triple the level at the beginning of this year.

Martin Lewis, the no-nonsense consumer champion, has urged Boris Johnson and his would-be successors Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to swiftly agree a new package to help consumers.

He decried the PM’s “zombie Government” for failing to address the crisis and warned decisions on fresh support could not be delayed until September 6 when Johnson’s successor takes office because consumers would have already had notice of increased bills ahead of the October price cap.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” declared Lewis. “It’s going to throw most households into a terribly difficult financial situation,” he added.

Underlining how the squeeze is tightening, new Bank of England data this week showed UK consumer credit growth in June had accelerated at its fastest rate in three years with people last month piling on an extra £1bn onto their credit cards to pay for rising utility and food bills.

The OBR has predicted this year household disposable income is set to fall at its fastest rate on record.

On Thursday, the Bank of England is expected to raise rates by 0.5% to 1.75% to try to help stem the inflationary surge, which will make many people’s monthly mortgage payments more expensive.

To add insult to injury for the suffering public, the soaring wholesale prices saw Shell, Europe’s largest oil and gas giant, announce quarterly profits of £9.5bn, which critics, in the face of record petrol prices, branded “obscene”.

Campaign group Fuel Poverty Action observed: “While millions go into debt, go hungry, and die in cold, poorly insulated homes, this money from our bills goes into further investment in dirty, polluting and expensive fossil fuels.”

Ben van Beurden, the company’s Chief Executive, admitted it was “a difficult period for a lot of people” because of the high energy prices but stressed that these were global phenomena before adding, unbelievably: “There’s not much we can do about it.”

How about cutting pump prices? His response was Shell’s philosophy was to price “on a competitive basis”. Separately, the company announced it would buy back £4.9bn of shares from investors.

Meantime, Centrica, owner of British Gas, which supplies 7.5m homes across the UK, revealed its profits had surged fivefold to £1.34bn.

Consequently, the company said that it would start paying dividends to shareholders for the first time since 2020.

Centrica boss Chris O’Shea defended the decision, pointing how its bumper profits were not due to consumers’ rising gas and electricity bills but down to higher prices benefiting its North Sea oil and gas interests. He insisted Centrica shareholders were “ordinary people,” who were “feeling the cost-of-living crisis” like everyone else and noted how the Government’s windfall tax would cost the company £600m.

However, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle was having none of it. “This is not ‘profits,’” he declared. “This is theft from the British people. Each penny of this should be returned with immediate effect.”

On the continent things are just as bad, if not worse.

There are fears of gas rationing this winter as the Kremlin seeks to “weaponise” Russia’s energy supplies to the EU.

On Wednesday, Gazprom, Russia’s state-run supplier, cut the gas flow from its main pipeline to just 20% of capacity. The fear is Moscow could order a total stoppage this winter. Yesterday, Gazprom halted all supplies to neighbouring Latvia.

Ukraine has accused Putin of waging a "gas war" against Europe and axing supplies to inflict "terror" on its people.

So, the scramble is on for alternative energy supplies with EU countries signing deals with Algeria, Egypt and Azerbijan. This week, France’s Emmanuel Macron received a deal of opprobrium for schmoozing the controversial Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Elysee Palace.

The lights are going out across Europe as public authorities, businesses and consumers try to save energy. Thermostats are being lowered. There is talk of Germany’s popular Oktoberfest and Christmas markets being cancelled. In Spain, the PM, Pedro Sánchez, has even urged men not to wear ties to save energy on air conditioning.

The hot-seat in Downing St beckons for either Sunak or Truss. Whoever gets to sit in it will have their work cut out. Few predecessors will, from day one, have had to face such a towering economic crisis. We can only pray he or she makes the right calls and also hope that this winter is unseasonably mild.