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Home & garden.

22 September 2021

Help if you're struggling to pay your energy bill

Contact your energy supplier as soon as possible if you’re finding it hard to pay your gas or electricity bill.
SI
Sarah Ingrams
Wrapped up in blanket 484181

If you're finding it hard to afford your energy bills, there are several things you can do. 

Contacting your supplier might feel like the last thing you want to do, but you’re not alone – research from Citizens Advice in December 2020 found that 2.1 million households were behind on their energy bills.

Get in touch with your energy supplier to find out whether it can help you reduce your bill, such as paying by monthly direct debit or signing up for an online tariff. 

If you're still finding it difficult to pay, there are other things you can do. Read on to find out more.

Also see our tips to cut your energy bills by using less gas and electricity.

Help with energy bills during the coronavirus pandemic

Two people sitting at a table in a kitchen discussing an energy bill

If you miss a payment, your energy supplier won't disconnect your gas and electricity at the moment. But if you don't top-up your prepayment meter, your supply might still stop.

Contact your energy supplier if you're struggling to pay, rather than cancelling your direct debit. 

It must work with you to agree a payment plan that you can afford. Options vary between suppliers but you can ask for:

  • a review of your payments and debt repayments
  • a reduction in your payments or a payment break
  • more time to pay
  • access to hardship funds.

Try and agree a deal that works for both you and your supplier. You can also ask to be added to the Priority Services register - this offers free help and support if you are in a vulnerable situation.

If you have a prepayment meter and can't top it up, contact your supplier to work out how to keep your energy supply. Options can include:

  • emergency credit
  • nominating someone to top up for you
  • adding a discretionary fund to your account
  • sending you a pre-loaded top-up card.

Bear in mind that you'll eventually need to pay back any credit your supplier gives you.

Energy supplier payment plans

Contact your supplier to explain your situation, and offer to pay an amount you can afford.

Energy suppliers must take certain steps before cutting off your supply. Your supplier won't cut you off if you agree a regular payment plan with it and then stick to it. Usually a payment plan will cover what you owe plus an amount for your current use.

It should take into account:

  • how much you can afford to pay
  • how much energy you will use in the future. 

Your energy supplier may need to ask about your income, debt and personal circumstances to work this out. They can estimate future energy use based on what you've used previously. 

Send regular meter readings (if you don't have a smart meter) to make sure you're billed accurately. See how to read your electricity meter and how to read your gas meter.

How to pay energy debt through your benefits

Smiling woman on the phone in a call centre

You might be able to pay off what you owe through your benefits using the Fuel Direct scheme. 

This takes a fixed payment automatically from your benefits to pay off your debt gradually, while paying towards your current energy use.

Find out if you're eligible for Cold Weather Payment, Winter Fuel Payment and Fuel Direct and how to set it up.

Paying energy debt with a prepayment meter

Pay-as-you go energy is one option to stay on top of your energy spend. Some energy suppliers might also ask you to have a prepayment meter installed if you don't keep up with your payments.

However, you can end up paying more for energy with a prepayment meter. So ask about other options first and check Is a prepayment energy meter right for you?.

Help from energy companies

Couple sitting by a radiator wrapped in a blanket

For winter 2021/22, 26 energy suppliers have promised to:

  • promote available support better 
  • offer different ways of getting in touch if you're in financial difficulty
  • make bills as accurate as possible
  • install smart meters for prepayment customers as soon as possible.

British Gas, Bulb, EDF, Eon, Octopus, Ovo, Scottish Power and Utilita are among the 26 companies.

Check your energy company’s code of practice to find out its policy on helping customers in difficult circumstances. Look in the help or FAQs section of its website, or phone the company:

  • Avro Energy 0330 058 2005
  • British Gas 0333 202 9804
  • Bulb 0300 30 30 635
  • Eon 0345 052 0000
  • Eon Next (including former Npower customers) 0808 501 5200
  • EDF Energy 0333 009 6992
  • Octopus Energy 0808 164 1088
  • Ovo Energy 0800 0699 831
  • Scottish Power 0800 027 0072
  • Shell Energy 0330 094 5800
  • SSE 0345 070 7395
  • Utilita 0330 053 5669
  • Utility Warehouse 0333 777 3215

Many of the biggest energy companies have independent charitable trusts to give grants to some customers to help them pay for fuel arrears.

Also start staking steps to reduce the amount of energy you use, which will help reduce future bills. See our Save electricity and save money.

Benefits and schemes to help pay energy bills

Government schemes and benefits can also help make your bills more affordable: 

  • The Winter Fuel Payment is an annual tax-free lump sum towards winter energy costs for those aged 66 or over. 
  • The Warm Home Discount is £140 off your bill if you get the guarantee element of Pension Credit. A broader group is also eligible, but the criteria vary between energy firms.
  • The Cold Weather Payment gives extra help with energy bills when temperatures are below zero, if you get qualifying benefits.
  • You might be eligible for a grant to make your home more energy efficient. Find out how the Energy Company Obligation can help you, and if your supplier offers free loft insulation.
  • There are other benefits to help you keep up with bills and household expenses. Find out what help you might qualify for using the Gov.uk website.

Energy bill problems

Inaccurate and erratic billing can leave you in debt. If you get a large bill but it’s the first one you’ve had in a while, contact your supplier. 

It should be able to arrange for you to repay the debt over the same time that it was built up (rather than demanding a big sum immediately). For example if you hadn't had a bill for 10 months, you could get 10 months to repay it.

Energy suppliers can’t back-bill you for energy you used more than 12 months ago, as long as they were at fault – for example, by not sending a bill when you asked, or billing you incorrectly. Find out more about your rights on energy back-billing.

The only exception is if you prevent your supplier from taking or receiving accurate meter readings – by tampering with your meter, for example.

Don’t wait for your energy supplier to get in touch. Contact it when you know you’re struggling to pay your bills to stop a big debt building up.

More help with energy bills

If you're getting into debt trying to keep up with household bills, see our guide on how to deal with debt for practical advice. Other sources of support include:

  • The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB, 08082231133) can also give you free, independent advice on dealing with debt.
  • Money Advice Service (0800 138 7777) is a government-backed free money advice source.
  • National Debtline (0808 808 4000) offers free advice over the phone to people in England, Scotland and Wales.
  • Step Change (0800 138 1111) is a charity that gives advice to help people overcome debt problems.