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19 Jan 2022

Energy price rises and supplier failures: your questions answered

Worried about paying bigger bills, switching supplier or what happens if your supplier fails? Here's what you need to know.
Woman sitting at a table with her head in her hand

With energy firms announcing price rises and multiple firms closing, we've been inundated with questions about how this impacts you and what to do if you're affected.

Here we answer some of your most common questions:

Has your supplier failed? Find out what to do if your supplier has stopped trading.

Will my energy bill go up because of higher wholesale gas prices?

If you're on a variable deal, your price can change whenever your supplier increases (or cuts) its prices. You'll get 30 days' warning of this change.

Up to 15 million customers faced a bill increase from 1 October 2021. That's because the price caps on out-of-contract energy deals rose, adding £139 on average to annual bills - more if you have a prepayment meter or use lots of energy.

If you're on a fixed deal, your rates can't change until it ends. But when it does you might struggle to find a deal as cheap as the one you're on.

The price cap will likely increase again in April 2022, by as much as 30% according to some analysts.

This is partly due to high wholesale prices, but also thanks to the costs of energy suppliers closing. The providers which take on their customers can claim back some of the costs of doing this. This is spread across all energy suppliers - and their customers. Outstanding renewables payments from failed suppliers are also shared across surviving firms.

What if I can't afford a bigger energy bill?

worrying about bills

Help is available if you're worried you'll struggle to pay higher energy bills.

Start by contacting your energy supplier. It might feel like the last thing you want to do, but the company won't cut off your supply if you work with it to agree how much you can pay.

Energy firms must agree a payment plan with you that you can afford. Options can include:

  • Reviewing your payments or debt repayments
  • Reducing your payments or taking a payment break
  • Allowing more time to pay
  • Access to hardship funds.

Also ask whether you can be added to its Priority Services Register. This gives free help and support if you're in a vulnerable situation.

Check whether you are eligible for government schemes and benefits:

  • The Warm Home Discount is £140 off your electricity bills if you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit. You might also qualify if you have a low income.
  • The Cold Weather Payment is £25 for each seven days between November and April that it's below 0°C. Certain benefits qualify you for this.
  • The Winter Fuel Payment is £200 if you're over 66 or £300 if you're over 80. You should get it automatically if you get the State Pension.

See more help if you're struggling to pay your energy bill.

Why is my energy company increasing my direct debit? Is it going to go bust?

We've heard from some customers facing big increases to their direct debit payments.

Energy firms must take reasonable steps to make sure that your direct debit is fair. This means that it should be based on the best information they have, including the amount of gas and electricity you use.

The price cap on out-of-contract energy tariffs increased by 12% on 1 October. If your tariff's prices rose with it then you'll pay £139 more on average over the next year - and your direct debit may need to increase to cover this.

Energy companies should review your direct debit periodically (at least once a year) to make sure that it matches the cost of your energy use over a year. If it doesn't, they may increase your direct debit payments.

This applies even if you're on a fixed deal. Your unit rate and standing charge are fixed for the length of your contract but not your payments. Those depend on how much energy you use.

But if you're worried that your direct debit increase is much more than the rising prices, or you're in credit, you should challenge your supplier:

If you have built up lots of credit with your energy supplier, you can ask for it back at any time.

Suppliers must refund you unless they have a good reason not to (which they'll need to justify).

Alternately, you might want to reduce your credit gradually over winter while you're using more heating. If so, check whether your direct debit hike is still necessary.

Which energy companies can I still switch to?

Some energy companies aren't taking new customers, and some are making it trickier to get a quote. Others are advising customers not to switch at the moment.

These include:

  • Boost isn't currently giving quotes to new customers. It says that while 'wholesale energy prices are incredibly high [it] can't offer [its] usual deals to new customers right now'.
  • Good Energy is offering a standard variable tariff to new customers from January 2022, but not its fixed rate tariffs, which it is only offering to existing customers.
  • Octopus Energy is giving quotes by phone but first warns that 'most homes will be better off staying with their current energy supplier for the winter'. You can sign up to be emailed when its prices fall again.
  • Shell Energy has temporarily removed fixed tariffs from its website and recommends that customers stay with their existing supplier 'as you're unlikely to find a better deal in the market right now'.
  • SSE is not currently giving online quotes if you're not already a customer. It will redirect you to parent company Ovo Energy, which is taking new customers.
  • Utilita has 'taken the decision to suspend all sales activity right now'. It has an option to 'join the waitlist' by email and says it 'will be welcoming new customers again soon'.

It's still possible to compare energy prices using Which? Switch to check which suppliers you can sign up to.

Will my energy supplier fail?

Many domestic energy suppliers have stopped trading this winter, including: Avro Energy, Bristol Energy, Bulb, Colorado Energy, Daligas, Goto Energy, Green, Hub Energy, Igloo Energy, MoneyPlus Energy, People's Energy, PFP Energy, Pure Planet, Symbio Energy, Together Energy and Utility Point.

There are rumours that others are in trouble. It's not unusual for a few energy suppliers to close their doors in autumn and winter. However Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, warned in autumn that there may be more than usual in 2021/22.

Suppliers do not have to disclose what is going on behind closed doors, so we often only find out that there is a problem when they announce that they have ceased trading. However, if this does happen, market regulator Ofgem has a process in place to find you a new supplier and honour any credit you have, so you won't lose out in the short term.

Your energy won't be cut off, and you won't lose any credit you have with your supplier.

If my energy supplier fails, will my gas and electricity be cut off?

No. Your gas and electricity supplies will continue as usual if your energy supplier stops trading.

Ofgem will find a new supplier and you'll be automatically transferred. That company will then contact you, and you'll start paying it for your gas and electricity usage.

If you have a prepayment meter, any credit you've already loaded onto your meter can be used as normal. The new supplier will send you a new key, card or other equipment to top up your meter as a priority.

If you need to top up before you're sent a new key or card, contact your new supplier for help.

Read more about whether prepayment meters are right for you.

If my energy supplier fails, will I have to pay more?

Woman looking shocked at the price of her energy b

Unfortunately, if your energy supplier fails, you will probably have to pay more when you move to a new supplier.

Your fixed deal was a contract with your old supplier. It does not apply to the new supplier chosen for you.

Some of the recently failed suppliers had offered quite cheap energy deals. Last year, when you may have chosen your tariff, gas prices were low. They have risen more than 250% since January, according to industry group Oil & Gas UK.

That means energy companies aren't currently selling deals as cheaply as they were in the past.

If your supplier closes, you'll be moved to a new supplier and put onto its 'deemed' tariff. This tariff is one you haven't chosen, so you can stay on it for as long (or short) a time as you choose and won't be charged exit fees to leave.

However, these tariffs can cost more. This is because 'the supplier takes on more risk', explains energy regulator Ofgem. For example, it might have to buy extra wholesale energy at short notice for new customers. Wholesale energy is pricey at the moment.

You can ask the new supplier to put you on its cheapest tariff. Make sure you use Which? Switch to check the prices of tariffs on sale at the moment. Unlike some commercial switching sites, Which? Switch shows the whole market, so even if we can't move you to the cheapest supplier, you'll know where to find it and can contact the company directly to switch.

Read tips on how to get the best energy deal.

I'm with a small energy supplier - should I switch?

If you're on a cheap fixed deal, now is not the time to switch energy supplier.

Cheap deals disappeared from sale in autumn 2021, so you're very unlikely to find any deals at the same rates you're paying now. Those rates (your daily standing charge and unit price) will be fixed until the end of your contract.

But if you're on a variable deal and have been told the price is increasing, then it's worth comparing gas and electricity prices using Which? Switch to check how your rates compare. At the moment price-capped variable deals are some of the cheapest options so it can be worth moving automatically onto your supplier's out-of-contract rate when your fixed deal ends.

If your small supplier stops trading, then you'll be moved to another supplier - read more above.

If my energy supplier fails, what should I do?

person stirring a pan on a gas hob

Don't panic. Your gas and electricity supply won't be cut off. Any credit you have will be protected.

You will be moved to a new supplier, chosen by energy regulator Ofgem. It usually takes a couple of days for a new supplier to be chosen, and a couple of weeks to be transferred.

The new supplier will get in touch with you to tell you about your new tariff, how payments will work and how you'll get any credit back.

While you wait:

  • Take a meter reading (take a photo if possible so you have a dated record)
  • Don't switch supplier (this can make it trickier to transfer you and pay back any money you're owed).

I can't access my energy account online: what should I do?

It's a good idea to download and bills and statements if your energy supplier closes so that you have them for your records.

But we've heard from some customers who have been unable to log in to their online account after their supplier stopped trading. Some failed suppliers take their website services offline.

Check back again later, or on another day. Some people have found that their account is up and running again (and even that the new supplier asks you to submit meter readings using it).

If not, wait until your new supplier contacts you. Your account records should be passed onto the new supplier so they can confirm how much credit or debt balance you have.

What happens to my Warm Home Discount payment if my supplier closes?

If you're in the 'core' group for the Warm Home Discount (ie you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit) then you should continue to get your payment from the new supplier.

This should happen automatically. The Department for Work and Pensions works with suppliers to identify customers who get Pension Credit.

Between October and December, you should have had a letter telling you how to get the discount. If you didn't, contact the Warm Home Discount helpline on 0800 731 0214.

If the new supplier chosen for you is very small, it may not have to pay the Warm Home Discount and you may lose your payment. However, this is unlikely - Ofgem has not typically chosen very small replacement suppliers and it takes into account the supplier's ability to make the payments when it's choosing which company will take over your supply.

Find out more about the Warm Home Discount.

If you're in the 'broader' group for the Warm Home Discount, you'll need to reapply to your new electricity supplier.

You'll be in the broader group if you don't get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit but are on a low income and get certain means-tested benefits. Around one million people get the £140 payment in this group.

Energy suppliers have different criteria for who is eligible for payments in their 'broader' group. Some smaller suppliers don't make payments to those in the 'broader' group.

If you qualified with your old supplier, ask your new supplier whether you will qualify with it too. Be prepared to reapply.

It's worth applying as soon as you can, because the number of payments available from each supplier can be limited.

British Gassaid that former customers of People's Energy who received the Warm Home Discount in 2020/21 will be added to its Warm Home Discount as long as it received the information. You can check when your account is set up.

EDF Energysaid that former Utility Point customers who are eligible for EDF's 'support plus' scheme can apply once their accounts are fully migrated to EDF. There will be a maximum number of applications it can accept though.

Money in purse

If you were in credit with your former energy company that's since stopped trading, there's no set time you could be waiting to get that credit transferred to your account with your new supplier.

Ofgem says your new energy provider, selected through the Supplier of Last Resort process, will contact customers to explain how they will take on their accounts. It told Which? that Suppliers of Last Resort work with administrators to determine the final credit balances of customers of failed suppliers and communicate this customers.

How quickly this can be done depends on several key factors:

  • The quality of the data held by the failed supplier
  • The number of customers being migrated as part of a Supplier of Last Resort process
  • The arrangements made between a Supplier of Last Resort and the administrator for the failed energy company
  • Any third party service providers to the failed supplier.

It is for this reason that there is no set period within which this process needs to be completed, and therefore how long those who were in credit with a supplier that's gone bust could be waiting before seeing that credit again.