LONDON (Reuters) – British energy suppliers have asked the government to provide support so they can offer payment breaks to households and businesses struggling to pay bills because of the impact of the coronavirus.

Many large British energy suppliers have already seen profits shrink since energy regulator Ofgem last January placed a cap on the most widely used tariffs. Several smaller firms have closed down.

The government has ordered sweeping measures to slow the spread of the virus, shutting down much of the economy and raising the prospect of mass job losses.

“On behalf of the industry, we are leading discussions with the government on what additional financial support could be required to help these customers over the coming months,” a spokesman for the trade association Energy UK said.

The government has announced measures to help about 4 million households with pre-pay energy meters who may struggle to top up credit, but Energy UK said these were not enough.

“There are also going to be many more households and businesses than usual who will struggle to pay for essential services like energy bills,” the spokesman said.

Britain’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the government would do whatever was needed to support the country during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We continue to engage with the energy sector to understand how suppliers and their customers could be further supported,” a spokeswoman for the department said.

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