Around 400,000 people were left in the cold and dark without gas or electricity last year, because they didn’t have enough money to top up their prepayment energy meter, new research from Citizens Advice found.
A vast majority of the 140,000 affected homes have someone who may be particularly vulnerable to being without heat or power – including children or those with long-term health conditions.
In fact, a third (33%) of households with prepayment meters who said they were without energy because they couldn’t afford it have a young child. Half live with someone who has a mental health condition.
Read on to find out what to do if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills. Or compare gas and electricity prices using Which? Switch, to see if you could cut your energy costs.
Prepayment energy meter payment problems
Citizens Advice’s research also found that around 1.9 million people whose homes have prepayment energy meters have been without gas or electricity in 2017 because they haven’t had sufficient funds on their meter.
This can be due to self-disconnection (losing energy supply when you can’t afford to top up), but also forgetting to top up the meter.
Accent Research, on behalf of Citizens Advice, surveyed 8,171 people across Great Britain in December 2017 and January 2018. Of these, 1,127 were prepayment meter customers.
Prepaid meter problems
Separate Which? research found that customers with prepaid meters are more likely to experience common problems, than those with standard meters.
Some 35% of prepayment meter customers have had a problem, compared with 20% of standard meter customers
For example, 15% of prepayment meter customers said they’d had a meter problem in the past two years, compared with 7% of standard meter customers.
Help to pay your energy bill
If you can’t afford to top up or are struggling to pay your energy bill, contact your energy supplier. You’re not alone – around one million customers are in debt to their gas or electricity supplier, according to energy regulator Ofgem in October 2017.
Just 9% of people who self-disconnected because they couldn’t afford to pay said they spoke to their energy supplier, Citizens Advice found.
But many suppliers offer credit in an emergency, and may be able to offer you other help to reduce and pay your bill.
All energy companies follow a code of practice that means they must take certain steps to help before cutting off your supply, for example setting up a payment plan.
Energy schemes: are you eligible?
There are various benefits and schemes to help pay your energy bill:
- Fuel Direct (third-party deductions) pay for your current energy use and an agreed amount of your unpaid bill each time your benefits are paid. You’ll need to receive Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit to qualify.
- Winter Fuel Payment is for most people aged over 63. It’s an annual tax-free lump sum paid between November and December to help towards heating costs. You’ll get £100-£300 depending on your age.
- Warm Home Discount automatically applies to households who get the guarantee element of Pension Credit. You may also be eligible if you are on a low income or get certain means-tested benefits. It’s worth £140 off your bills.
Find out more about the help available to pay your gas and electricity bills.