Pubs in Dereham and Fakenham have thrown their weight behind calls for government intervention as they struggle to cope with rapidly rising cost of energy.

Landlords and brewery bosses in the area anticipate their bills will increase by as much as 500pc when a new energy price cap is enforced in October.

Unlike households, businesses are not covered by a regulated price cap.

And, as punters try desperately to make savings, it is feared many will sacrifice heading down to their favourite pubs during the autumn and winter months.

Leaders of six of the country's largest breweries have now called for "immediate government intervention" to help the sector to survive.

Signing an open letter to the government, they urged action before “real and serious irreversible” damage is done to the industry.

David Holliday, co-founder of Moon Gazer Ale, a brewery in Fakenham, is among those getting behind the letter.

Mr Holliday has seen his firm's energy and fuel bill skyrocket by a "scary" £30,000, prompting him to back a price cap.

“Any small business needs a price cap," he said. "Small businesses have not had a cap and have been facing price rises since September 2021.

"If we have a freeze - while it is still scary - we can at least adjust and plan.

“The scary thing [without a cap] is that it can keep going up month on month. This cap needs to come in before the next price rise in October; our local industry needs support."

Cara Green, co-owner of The Sculthorpe Aviator, said the pub’s electric bill had increased to about £36,000 a year.

Staff there are doing their best to keep consumption at a minimum, including by turning off the grill and electric fans when they are not in use, and only turning on lights during opening hours.

Despite these challenges, Mrs Green remains determined to absorb rising costs as much as possible.

“We understand that customers' living costs have also increased, and we don't want them to feel they can no longer eat out,” she said.

“I'm hoping people will still venture out if they know we have kept our prices the same.

“We are all in the same boat, and hopefully, we can sail through this. I would love for the government to help, whether it's capping electricity prices or putting VAT back down again.”

Alie Hannam, who runs The Crown in Fakenham, said her bills had already doubled.

She had joined the chorus of small and independent businesses asking for a price cap, adding that the government needs to "get off their backsides and start doing something, not just for the hospitality industry but for everybody."

The government said previously that no new policies would be announced until the appointment of a new prime minister on September 5.

Paul Sanford, owner of The Railway Tavern pub and chip shop in Dereham, has been with the same energy agent for 15 years.

They had never met in person until earlier this year, when the agent asked to show the landlord the extent of his financial headache.

Mr Sandford said the Tavern's energy bill would soar from from £8,000 to £40,000 when his current contract expires in February 2023, and that, without support, it would be "curtains" for the business.

“I spoke to our MP (George Freeman) two weeks ago to show him in black and white the impact this will have on us and other businesses," he added.

“I think the government need to look at capping commercial energy prices, like with households.

“It is a worrying time for everyone. We just hope the government step in and help out us small and medium-sized businesses."

Nigel Barton, who runs The Bull in Dereham, thinks it might be too late to introduce an energy price cap, and that the incoming prime minister should offer grants instead.

Back in March, his own bill rose from £17,000 to £32,000. In November, when his gas contract ends, he expects the annual charge to reach almost £50,000 if quotes are accurate.

“A price cap would be no good by the time it is implemented," he said.

"A grant would be more or less immediate, as would a reduction in business rates. I wouldn't mind seeing both of them as a form of support.

"Unless there is help, then it could be the end of pubs as we know them. The only ones left would be the big chains."