ENERGY companies are holding more than £46 million belonging to businesses int he south - seriously impacting vital cashflow.

That’s according to an independent study commissioned by challenger brand, Utilita Energy based in Chandler's Ford.

In 2017, there were a reported 5.7 million private businesses across the UK , and 404,000 in the south east, and Utilita’s second annual Powering the UK High Street report revealed that almost half of those surveyed (46 per cent) have paid at least £250 just to secure their energy supply.

However, the survey showed that average deposit was in the region of £650, the true cost to Britain’s South East businesses could be far higher.

Some have even had to fork out more than £2,000 – before being charged for any energy usage.

The national study looking into the treatment of small businesses by energy companies also found that almost a third (32 per cent) of south east businesses studied have seen the cost of their energy supply rise by between £250 and £500 per year.

More than half (57 per cent) of south east businesses surveyed believe they get an unfair deal on energy.

It’s the finding that some energy companies are charging an upfront fee, which is causing outrage amongst South East businesses who are already facing tough economic trading conditions.

Utilita Energy - which does not ask for a deposit - said SMEs need all the help they can get.

Bill Bullen, CEO of Utilita, said: “This is a huge amount of money and a major problem for SMEs. That’s certainly what they have told us. It could actually discourage them from switching to another provider – exactly what the Government says it is trying to stop.

“It’s outrageous and we are astonished that our survey has found many South East businesses feel they are not trusted at a time when we should be doing all we can as a country. It is poor to see suppliers are withholding over £46m from South East businesses, who are paying £250 or more upfront. However, with the average deposit at almost £650, we believe the real picture is far bleaker.”

Utilita’s survey also found that more than a quarter (26 per cent) of south east micro-businesses are being turned down flat for energy supply – compared to 21 per cent in a similar study carried out by Utilita in 2017.

Less than a third of South East businesses surveyed (29 per cent) are shopping around for a better energy deal every year.

Other key findings from the 2018 survey include the fact that 76 per cent of south east businesses business owners spend up to 10 hours per week on admin – that’s 65 working days a year. On average, they work over 44 hours a week.