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30 June 2021

Help if you're struggling to pay your energy bill

Contact your current energy supplier as soon as possible if you’re struggling to pay your gas or electricity bill.
Which?Editorial team
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Struggling to pay your energy bills? We’ll show you what you can do to get help.

This might feel like the last thing you want to do, but you’re not alone – research from Citizens Advice in August 2020 found that six million (one in nine) people in the UK have fallen behind with household bills because of coronavirus.

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

If you still can’t afford to pay, there are things you can do. Read on to find out more.

Help with energy bills during the coronavirus pandemic

If you find yourself unable to afford your bills, contact your supplier rather than just cancelling your direct debit. You should be able to work out a plan that could include your bill payments and/or debt payments being reassessed, reduced or paused, though exact policies vary between suppliers.

Energy suppliers are prevented from disconnecting prepayment meters during the outbreak, regardless of your ability to pay for your energy.

If you have a prepayment meter and are currently unable to top it up, contact your supplier to work out how to keep your energy supply. Potential solutions can include:

  • nominating someone to top up for you (Ofgem recommends leaving your meter unlocked)
  • 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.

For more information about how to manage your energy payments during the pandemic, and what different energy companies are doing to support their customers, read our news story about the government's instructions to energy suppliers during the coronavirus crisis.

Help from energy suppliers

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

All energy suppliers follow a code of practice that means they 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. 

Check your energy company’s code of practice to find out its policy on helping customers who find themselves in difficult circumstances. You can do this by checking the help or FAQs section of your gas or electricity supplier’s website, or by giving the company a ring on one of these phone numbers:

  • British Gas 0333 202 9804
  • Bulb 0300 30 30 635
  • Co-operative Energy 0808 164 1088
  • Eon 0345 052 0000
  • EDF Energy 0333 009 6992
  • Npower 0800 073 3000  
  • Octopus Energy 0808 164 1088
  • Ovo Energy 0800 0699 831
  • Scottish Power Priority Services Register 0330 10 10 167
  • Shell Energy dedicated team 0330 094 5800
  • SSE Careline 0800 622 838
  • Utilita Customer Care Team 0345 2072 000
  • Utility Warehouse 0333 777 0777

Energy supplier payment plans

Energy suppliers should be willing to set up a debt payment plan that suits you, even if you've been threatened with disconnection. You can repay debt through a variety of means, including:

  • the Fuel Direct scheme, where energy payments are made direct from state benefits (more information below)
  • a 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
  • grants – all of the traditional big energy companies have set up independent charitable trusts to give grants to some customers to help them pay for fuel arrears.

You should also start taking steps to reduce the amount of energy you use, which will cut what you have to pay on future bills. See our tips for using less electricity.

Energy bill problems

Inaccurate and erratic billing can cause people to inadvertently run up debts. For example, if you receive a large bill but it’s the first bill you’ve had for some time, contact your supplier. 

It should be able to arrange repayment of the debt over the same period in which it accrued. So if you haven’t had a bill for 12 months, you could get 12 months to repay.

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 actively prevent your supplier from taking or receiving accurate meter readings – by tampering with your meter, for example.

The energy regulator Ofgem revealed that customers in debt build up an average of £600 in unpaid gas and electricity bills before their energy supplier steps in to help them pay it back. Some suppliers let the debts build up to as much as £800.

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

Benefits and schemes to help with energy bills

There are various benefits and schemes that can provide help to pay your energy bill. Click the link to find out more, and whether you're eligible.

  • Fuel Direct or third-party deductions let you pay your energy bills directly from your benefits, including paying any debt.
  • Winter Fuel Payment is an annual tax-free lump sum towards winter energy costs for those aged 66 or over.
  • Warm Home Discount is £140 off your bill for those who get the guarantee element of Pension Credit. A broader group is also eligible, but the criteria vary between energy firms.

Extra benefits

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 Gov.uk website.

It's also worth exploring whether you're eligible for a boiler grant from the government, or even a free boiler. To find out more, go to how to get a free boiler or grant.

More help with energy bills 

  • If you find yourself getting into debt trying to keep up with household bills, see our guide to how to deal with debt for practical advice. 
  • The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) 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.