Households across the UK apparently owe a staggering total of £1.3bn to energy companies.
That’s a huge sum, but when it comes to individual households the cost of gas and electricity – dictated by Ofgem’s soaring energy prices – can also seem overwhelming.
In protest, some sign up for Don’t Pay UK, essentially on a ‘strike’ over the cost of living by refusing to pay for their winter energy supply.
But if you’re in a position where you can’t afford to cover your energy bills at all, what are your options? And what help do you have?
Here’s everything you need to know.
What happens if you can’t pay your energy bills?
If you’ve realized that your bills are so out of control that you can’t pay them, your first step should be to contact your energy company.
Energy expert Myles Robinson explains: “Notifying [your supplier] that you want to pay off your debt through a payment plan.
“They should discuss with you ways to pay what you owe them and come to an agreement.” When making a deal, your provider should consider what you can afford to pay based on your income, expenses, and any other debt you have.
“They will also take into account how much energy you are likely to use in the future by looking at your past usage.”
If a repayment plan fails, you may be told (or forced) to have a prepayment meter installed.
Myles of Boiler Central continues: “This means you will have to pay for your energy usage up front and a weekly payment to cover any debts.”
Can your energy supply be cut off if you cannot pay?
Again, your provider should give you the option to pay through a plan, based on your income and expenses.
However, if you fail to meet a plan or miss multiple repayments, in extreme cases your energy supply could eventually be cut off.
“If you can’t reach an agreement with your supplier, they can also ask for a court order so they can visit your home and shut off your power supply,” says Myles.
“It can be done remotely if you have a smart meter, but your energy company must visit you to identify and assess your situation.”
According to Citizens Advice, most suppliers have signed an agreement called the Energy UK Vulnerability Commitment – you can check if your supplier has signed this commitment by contacting them or checking their website.
If your provider has signed up, they won’t disconnect you between October 1 and March 31 if you:
- Living with children under 16
- are disabled
- Having long-term health problems
- Have serious financial problems
- Have children under 6 living at home
It’s reassuring to know that if you’re struggling to pay, it won’t always affect your credit score, notes Myles, nor will it have an immediate impact on your living situation, unless the energy bills are included in your rent.
He adds: “If your bills are included in the rent and you stop paying, your landlord may be able to evict you for late rent…
“Missing energy bills shouldn’t affect your mortgage as the loan is agreed directly with your bank or building society.
“However, not paying your energy bills can make it more difficult to re-mortgage your home or take out a new mortgage in the future and therefore it is not advisable to do so.”
Given the above, it is wise to anticipate the problem as much as possible and know what help you are entitled to.
What support is available to pay energy bills?
First, there are lots of smart ways to save money on your energy bills.
Now is definitely a good time to find out how you could waste energy and reduce unnecessary use.
However, energy conservation may only get you so far if you’re really struggling to pay – and, of course, winter (and the need for central heating) is right around the corner.
It is important to know that help is available.
First, the government provides minimum support to every household in the UK.
Under the Energy Bills Support Scheme, all UK households automatically receive £400 to help pay energy bills – split over six months and sent directly to energy suppliers, starting in October 2022.
People living in council tax brackets A to D previously received a £150 rebate to help pay their energy bills in April 2022.
Additional support will also be provided to around eight million households receiving means-tested benefits.
This includes a cost of living payment of £650 (half paid in July 2022, the second half in the fall), a £300 supplement for pensioners who are already receiving the winter fuel payment, plus a one-time disability cost of living payment of £150, which will help around six million.
Every year, and not just this year, energy bill assistance schemes are put in place for the elderly or vulnerable.
Benefit recipients can also arrange for energy payments to be deducted directly from their benefits, under the Fuel Direct Scheme.
If you have a prepaid meter and cannot afford to top it up, you may be able to get a fuel voucher from your local council or by contacting the Fuel Bank Foundation by calling 0800 023 9922 or 0330 088 5765 Monday to Friday. between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
You can also email email@example.com.
Suppliers can also give temporary credit to those who are really in difficulty. Find out who your power provider is here and ask if they have support right now.
It’s worth exploring what programs you qualify for, if any, and making sure you get them if you do.
See if there are other areas where you can get help here – such as council tax, groceries, rent or childcare costs – which may free up funds for you help cover other bills.
Finally, there are people you can talk to about this and other financial worries – with the goal of not only getting the help you’re entitled to, but also making things better over time.
If debt is impacting your ability to cover your bills, contact StepChange – a dedicated debt charity who can provide advice, personalized support and help you develop a debt management plan.
You can also call the Citizen’s Advice freephone helpline on 0808 223 1133. It is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm – or use the online form or SMS option.
MORE: Most people underestimate rising energy bill prices – and some think they’ll come down
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