What to do if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills
Now that January is finally over I’m sure I’m not alone in still watching the pennies and like many people I don’t want to be worried about receiving the next energy bill.
After completing energy advice training I’m sharing some pearls of wisdom from what I learned (by no means am I an expert). If you or someone you know is struggling to pay those pesky energy bills I hope this post will help.
The first thing you should do is contact your energy supplier as soon as possible. You can discuss ways to pay what you owe them and check if you are on the right tariff for your usage.
You can also discuss whether they can offer you any ways to reduce your bill, such as paying by monthly direct debit or signing up for an online tariff.
Energy suppliers should be willing to set up a payment plan for debt that suits you, even if you have been threatened with disconnection.
Debt can be repaid in several different ways including:
- Fuel Direct – a scheme where energy payments are made direct from state benefits (more information below)
- Prepayment meter – but sometimes you end up paying far more for energy, so ask about other options first and check if a prepayment meter is right for you
- All of the Big Six energy companies have set up independent charitable trusts to give grants to some customers to help them pay for fuel arrears.
Take a meter reading
Make sure you take regular meter readings and submit them to your energy supplier; as this will help you keep an eye on your energy use and keep your bills accurate.
If you receive a bill and it has an ‘E’ marked against the meter reading this means it is ‘estimated’ by your supplier. You may not be paying the right amount for your energy.
Having several estimated readings can sometimes lead to large unexpected bills which none of us want.
If you aren’t sure how to take a meter reading this short video can also help:
Depending on your personal and financial situation, you could be eligible for benefits to help you keep up with your bills and household expenses.
Check whether you qualify for financial help through the benefits system using the DirectGov website.
Winter Fuel Payment
Most people aged 63 or over can get a Winter Fuel Payment to help them pay for gas or electric heating in winter. This annual tax-free lump sum is normally paid from November and most payments are made by Christmas.
Depending on your age and circumstances, you could get between £100 and £300. This is worth looking into for next winter.
The Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount is a government scheme designed to help fuel poor and vulnerable households in England, Scotland and Wales by giving those eligible a rebate off their electricity bill.
It is a rebate that goes against an individual’s electricity bill and is not a discount received directly by a person. Again this is worth being aware of for next winter.
For 2017-2018, this is worth £140 off your bill and applies to two groups:
- A core group– households that get the guarantee element of Pension Credit. Most of these households will be automatically identified by energy suppliers
- A ‘broader group’ – the definition of these vary from supplier to supplier, but can include those on low income or in receipt of certain means-tested benefits.
Many schemes will have closed already for this year.
The Priority Services Register
The Priority Services Register is a free service provided by energy suppliers and Network Operators that provides additional services to individuals in need. These additional services make sure that the service provided to them is accessible, and that the energy company knows they might need extra help, for example, if their electricity supply is cut off unexpectedly.
A wide range of support is available for example:
- Information provided in different formats
- Free gas safety checks
- Special controls and adaptions
- Assistance if there is a power outage
- A free password scheme
You can receive the services available if you:
- Are of pensionable age
- Are disabled or chronically sick
- Have a long-term medical condition
- Have a hearing or visual impairment or additional communication needs
- Are in a vulnerable situation.
Contact your gas/electricity supplier to register free on their Priority Services Register.
More help with energy bills
- The Citizens Advice Bureau can also give you free, independent advice on dealing with debt 03454 04 05 06.
- National Debt Line (0808 808 4000) offers free advice over the phone to people in England, Scotland and Wales.
- Step Change (0800 138 1111) is a charity which gives advice to help people overcome debt problems.
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For tips to keep warm at home this winter and reduce your energy bills see my previous post here.
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