There are strict rules that energy suppliers must observe if you are in debt on your energy bills – so don’t panic and ignore the situation as this will only make matters worse. The advice below is for debts to energy suppliers – if you have other debts too it is best to talk to an impartial debt adviser such as the national debt line (opens in a new window) or call them on 0808808 4000.
In the first instance discuss your debts with Citizens Advice or the National Debt line – so that you get advice about what realistic repayments might be.
It is highly unlikely that taking out a high interest loan is a good idea – it is likely this will cost you even more money. Unless there are special circumstances, you are not allowed to switch supplier if you owe money on your account.
In brief your energy supplier must do the following:
- offer a realistic repayment plan
- inform you about the Fuel Direct scheme
- offer to fit a prepayment meter
- provide energy efficiency advice (so you can make reduce your future energy use)
- allow you to pay off your arrears in installments (weekly, monthly etc)
What if I am being threatened with disconnection?
f your energy supplier is threatening to disconnect you, don’t delay or ignore the problem. Despite the poor reputation of energy companies it is quite rare for people to be disconnected as energy suppliers have to follow strict rules on how to treat customers who are behind with their bills.
- Read your energy meters (find out how to read your meters) and see if you owe more or less than your latest bill shows
- Contact Citizens advice immediately – if you have other debts tell them about these too
- Stay in contact with your energy supplier and write down whatever suggestions they make – and check with Citzens Advice before you agree to them
If you are on benefits the Fuel Direct Scheme may help
This is a Government backed scheme for people on benefits such as Income Support, Pension Credit, Income based job seekers allowance and income related employment and support allowance.
It is likely that this scheme will get you the best repayment plan – with payments you can afford being deducted from your benefits and sent directly to your supplier. To get help from this scheme you need to call Jobcentre Plus (opens in a new window) Note: don’t email them as they may take 10 days to respond!
Before you agree to a repayment plan ask Citizens Advice or a debt advisor to prepare a statement detailing you income and outgoings – this will help your energy supplier to suggest an affordable repayment plan. Find out more about repayment plans (opens in a new window)
The Ofgem priority service register
If you need help to read your meter because you are long term ill, registered disabled, pensionable age, unable to see the meter or any other valid reason you maybe eligible to join the Priority Services Register. This is a scheme that entitles you to free help and assistance including some or all of the following:
- free service to move your meter to a location where you can read it
- free quarterly meter readings (if you are unable to read it yourself)
- free controls and adapters to make your meters and appliances easier to use
- priority treatment if gas or electricity services are disrupted
- ability to nominate someone to receive your bills
- free gas safety check
Check whether you are eligible for Winter fuel payments
Am I eligible for winter fuel payements?
The winter fuel payment is a government scheme to help older people with their heating costs. If you haven’t received it before check Directgov on how you go about getting onto the scheme (opens in a new window)
Check whether you can get any energy savings grants
The latest information on energy savings grants can be found from the Energy Savings Trust (opens in a new window). At the moment there are lots of free deals for loft and cavity wall insulation – these are likely to stop before next winter so if you have a poorly insulated loft or cavity walls get them sorted – it will save you loads of money (for most households about £300 per year) on your energy bills. Energy Suppliers have to meet targets for carbon reduction and are worried that they will not make them – hence there are lots of free offers. Visit moneysavingexpert free insulation offers (opens in a new window) to find out more.
Can I get the Warm Homes discount?
The Warm Homes is a new(ish) Government scheme to help some older and vulnerable people. It will replace social tariffs over the next 4 years. The government energy regulator, Ofgem has approved a number of different schemes for different energy companies and these are given out on a first-come first serve basis. To find out if your energy supplier will pay the credit (worth £130 for the winter of 2012/2013) see the eligibility criteria for your supplier (opens in a new window). Find your local Citizens Advice Bureau who should also be able to help (opens in a new window)