Struggling to pay your energy bills? You're not alone. In fact, according to the official Committee on Fuel Poverty, over 10% of households in England are in fuel poverty.
Fuel poverty is defined as a situation where someone who is on a relatively low income lives in a house that cannot be kept warm at a reasonable cost.
It can be caused by a mixture of high energy prices, low incomes, and energy-inefficient homes.
The phenomenon can have life-changing effects on households, with the stress of debt, for example, creating social isolation and even illness.
What help is available?
First, it’s important to mention that, should you be unable to pay your bill due to insufficient funds, your supplier will not just cut off your energy supply.
If you miss a payment, you’ll be sent a reminder in the post after 14 days. This will be followed by further correspondence, and potentially a home visit.
It’s possible that any costs associated with this process will be added to your bill, so it’s crucial that you contact your provider as soon as possible if you’re going to miss, or have missed, a payment.
If you ignore the problem, it won’t go away – in fact, it will only get worse.
Your supplier will offer guidance on your payment options, and help you find a way to manage your payments. For example, you could move onto a prepay energy meter.
There are also a number of government schemes which you might qualify for, depending on your age and whether you are claiming any other benefits, as we explain below.
You could also contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for further advice and guidance on debt management.
Winter Fuel Payment
The Winter Fuel Payment is a tax-free contribution towards energy costs, ranging from £100 up to £300. If you live alone you'll receive £200, or £300 if you were 80 or over in the qualifying week.
If you live with another person who qualifies then each of you will get £100, or £150 if you're aged 80 or over, making the combined total for the household £200 or £300.
You can claim the Winter Fuel Payment for this winter (2016/17) if you were born before May 5, 1953. You must be living in the UK throughout what is known as the 'qualifying week', which this year is September 19th-25th, 2016.
To find out more, read our Winter Fuel Payment guide.
Cold Weather Payment
Cold Weather Payments are payments made when the temperature in your area drops, or is forecast to be, below zero degrees Celsius, for seven consecutive days.
You will receive £25 for each 7-day period of cold weather, between 1 November 2016 and 31 March 2017.
You will be eligible for Cold Weather Payments if you already receive Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
For further details, read our Cold Weather Payments guide.
Warm Home Discount Scheme
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, the Warm Home Discount scheme could provide you with up to £140 off your electricity bill to enable you to afford a warmer home.
It works by giving you a one-off discount off your actual bill between October and April.
To qualify for this discount, you must ensure that on 10 July 2016 your electricity supplier was part of the scheme, your name was on the bill, and you were getting the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit.
If the above doesn’t apply to you, you can always go directly to your supplier to see if you’re eligible through them. We have plenty more information here on the Warm Home Discount Scheme.
If you are consistently struggling to pay your energy bills each month, your supplier might install a prepayment meter. This works through a pay-as-you-go method, similar to that as a mobile phone. Ultimately, you pay for your energy as you use it.
You can still switch between suppliers, even on a prepayment meter.
Improve energy efficiency
There are measures you can take to ensure your home is more energy-friendly:
- Installing insulation or double glazing can really help keep your home warm. If you’re on a low income, you might qualify for a grant to install efficient energy measures.
- Bleed your radiators to make sure your heating is being used efficiently and to eliminate waste.
- Draft excluders have a big impact on keeping a home insulated. Place them under doors, windows, or in letterboxes.
- Use the quick 30 degree wash on your washing machine. Today’s washing liquid can still do a great job on this wash setting.
- Look into switching suppliers to get a cheaper tariff. According to Ofgem, 66% of domestic customers are on the most expensive standard tariffs.
For free and impartial advice on how to save energy in your home, contact the Energy Saving Trust: Phone 0300 123 1234 (you pay the price of a national rate call)
This service is provided by the Energy Saving Trust on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Techniques such as installing insulation or double glazing can really help keep your home warm.
There are Government schemes available which provide funding to households on certain benefits to improve their heating and energy efficiency.
There is also the 'Energy Company Obligation', whereby the ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers are required to help low income and vulnerable households save on energy bills and carbon emissions.
There are complex eligibility criteria for this means-tested scheme. Contact the Energy Saving Trust on the number above to find out if you qualify.