Financial help for energy customers
The rising cost of energy is consumers' number one financial concern, according to Which? research. Read on if you're struggling to pay your energy bills, or want to know what extra help could be available to you.
1. Are you on the best deal?
The energy tariff market changes frequently, so even if you've switched energy supplier in the past you might not be on the best value tariff. And if you've always been on the same energy plan, it's very likely you could be paying less by moving to a more competitive deal.
To see if you're on the best deal, compare suppliers and deals using the Which? Switch energy calculator.
2. If you can't pay, tell your energy supplier
If you're in financial difficulties and falling behind on your energy bills, or have run up a debt on your gas or electricity, it's essential you contact your energy supplier as soon as possible to discuss the problem, or you could risk being disconnected.
You'll normally be classed as being in energy arrears if you haven't paid your bill 28 days after is was issued for gas, or 28 days after you receive the bill for electricity. If you continue not to pay the money you owe, you risk being disconnected. It normally takes more than four months for a supply to be disconnected.
Energy suppliers have a duty to help customers who are having difficulties. It should give you information about your options and help you to repay money you owe, setting up a regular repayment plan on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis if you're unable to pay what you owe back in one go. It should take into account how much you can afford to repay when calculating your monthly repayments.
If you continue to struggle to meet your payments while on a repayment plan, speak to your supplier about reducing your installments to a more manageable level.
For more information about free energy help and assistance you are entitled to visit the Consumer Focus eligibility checker.
3. Warm Home Discount and social tariffs
Energy suppliers currently offer cheaper 'social tariffs' to help their most vulnerable customers, but these will be replaced in winter 2011 by the Warm Home Discount scheme - a £120 payment to help those struggling to pay their energy bills.
Pensioners who receive a guarantee credit element of pension credit will automatically receive the money towards their winter bills. But households on certain benefits, or homes where more than 10% of their income is spent on fuel, may also be eligible. Each energy supplier has different criteria - contact yours to see if you're eligible.
4. Winter Fuel Payments
If you're aged 60 or over you should be eligible for the Winter Fuel Payment to help towards the cost of gas and electricity during the winter months.
This is a tax-free payment of between £100 and £300 (depending on your circumstances) you'll receive between November and December. It's usually paid into the same account that you receive your state pension. The DirectGov website lists more information on eligibility and payments.
5. Cold Weather Payment
If you receive certain benefits, including pension credits and income support, and the temperature falls below 0°C over seven consecutive days you could be entitled to a Cold Weather Payment, to help you get through a particularly cold period.
You'll automatically receive this if you're eligible - find out more in our Warm Home Discount guide.
6. Energy efficiency grants
There are also several other government-led grant and incentive schemes available that reward homeowners for generating your own energy or taking measures to make your home more energy efficient. We have detailed guides with more information on how to apply for these:
- Energy grants and discounts available through your energy supplier
- The feed-in tariff - payments for generating your own electricity through solar panels
- The renewable heat incentive - a scheme to reward homes and communities generating their own heat
7. Prepayment meter customers
If you've previously had a repayment plan but failed to pay, your energy supplier can refuse to set up another. Your energy supplier may offer you a prepayment meter as a last resort before disconnecting your supply. A prepayment meter could be used to repay the money you owe, although this should take into account your ability to repay.
Prepayment energy tariffs are amongst the least competitive on the market, so one way to save as a prepayment customer is to switch to a better value energy deal. If you owe money to your energy supplier your options are more limited, as a new supplier may refuse to take you as a new customer. If you owe less than £200 and have a prepayment meter you can now switch supplier, with the new supplier collecting the arrears. If you owe more than £200, you won't be able to switch.
New rules also apply if you are notified of a price increase and are stopped switching by your existing supplier. If you clear the debt within 30 days you're allowed to switch and won't be charged the higher prices for your energy.
If you're in debt because of a mistake by your supplier you are also now allowed to switch supplier.
8. Seek further help to pay your energy bills
You can get free impartial help from National Debtline and Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS). Information is also available from Consumer Focus and Directgov.
Cut your energy bills with Which? Switch
The average saving when switching gas and electricity is £217 - compare gas and electricity tariffs now to find the best deal for you.
This figure is based on the 53,459 households who switched suppliers using Which? Switch and The Big Switch between 1st September 2011 and 31st August 2012.