What to do if you can’t pay your energy bills

If you’re struggling to pay your gas and electricity bills, our guide should help you get back on track.

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If you’re finding it hard to keep on top of your energy bills, you may be worried your gas and electricity supply will be cut off.

But all energy suppliers have to follow a code of practice which means they must take steps before they cut off your supply.

Most fuel companies will not disconnect you if:

  • You agree to a payment arrangement
  • You agree to have a prepayment meter installed
  • The amount owed belongs to a person who lived in your house before you
  • It is between October and March and all the adults in the household are over retirement age

Some companies will also agree not to disconnect the supply between these times if any of the adults in the household have a severe illness.

Check your bill

If your bill is high, the first step is to check whether it’s based on an estimate. If it is, take a meter reading for both gas and electricity and let your supplier know.

Contact your supplier

If you are struggling to keep up with your payments, it’s best to let your supplier know as soon as possible. They should work with you to establish a payment arrangement that you can afford.

Your supplier may also suggest you could lower your bills by switching to a different tariff or paying by monthly direct debit.

Set up a payment plan

Your supplier should work with you to set up a payment plan. You will probably need to agree on a fixed amount that you can afford to pay every week, every two weeks or every month. This is likely to include an amount towards your debt, plus an amount to cover your current fuel consumption.

You can spread any unpaid bill over the whole year and include it in the plan. If you’re unable to afford the amount the company is asking you to pay, ask for a special arrangement. The company should let you pay off what you owe at a rate you can afford, even if this means spreading it over longer than a year.

It can be a good idea to draw up a budget with your incomings and outgoings before you agree to the plan to make sure you can meet the payments.

Consider a prepayment meter

Your supplier might also suggest you have a prepayment meter installed. This means you will pay for the gas and electricity you are continuing to use upfront (much like a pay-as-you go mobile phone) but also make a payment towards the amount you owe.

However, while it can help you budget, keep in mind there can be drawbacks to having a prepayment meter. Your standing charge may be higher and if you are unable to afford to top up your meter, you won’t have an energy supply.

As long as you haven’t fallen behind on any repayment arrangement you’ve set up with your energy supplier, your supplier can’t insist you have a prepayment meter installed. But you can ask for one if you want one.

Check if you qualify for Fuel Direct

If you get Income Support, Pension Credit, Universal Credit, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance, or Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance and owe more than a set amount on your fuel bill, you could ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to take weekly deductions from your benefit and pay them directly to the gas or electricity company.

This is called Fuel Direct or Third Party Deductions and it will cover the gas or electricity you are continuing to use, plus a standard amount towards the amount you owe. If you wish to do this, contact Job Centre Plus and your energy supplier.

Ask about charitable trusts

Some energy suppliers run charitable trust funds that can offer financial assistance to customers who are suffering severe hardship. The eligibility criteria vary, but it’s worth contacting your company to ask about any charitable funds.

You should also make sure that you receive any government assistance to which you are entitled, such as the Winter Fuel Payment or the Cold Weather Payment.

The Warm Home Discount could help, too, depending on your circumstances.

Other help

If you’re struggling financially, don’t feel you have to deal with it on your own. There are several charities that offer free advice and support, such as StepChange, Citizens Advice and National Debtline. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.

What to do if your energy supply is disconnected

If your supply is disconnected, you will need to reach an agreement with the supplier about payments and reconnection. But be aware that the company could ask you to pay a reconnection fee, as well as administration charges.

Complaints about your supplier

If you have a complaint about how your fuel company is dealing with your situation, you can complain to the Energy Ombudsman.

The Energy Ombudsman deals with complaints for Ofgem, the regulatory organisation for gas and electricity. Fuel companies are bound by Ofgem guidelines that say they should take your circumstances into account when making an arrangement to pay.

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