If you're struggling to pay your energy bills or get a bill you can't afford, take steps to sort out the problem as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get, and if you don't pay your gas and electricity debts, you risk being cut off.
Contact your supplier
Contact your energy supplier as soon as you have a problem paying. Explain the situation and ask if you can come to an agreement about how to pay off your arrears.
Energy suppliers have to follow certain rules when dealing with customers who are in arrears with their bills. They should:
give you advice on how to pay back any money you owe
have available advice on how you could use less energy around the home
offer you a payment plan based on what you can afford to pay.
Work out what you can afford to pay
Do a budget listing all the income and outgoings for your household. Don't agree to pay an amount you can't afford.
Your supplier should be able to arrange a weekly, fortnightly or monthly payment plan. The amount you pay will include:
an estimated amount for the fuel you currently use
an amount for the arrears.
Your supplier shouldn't try to get you to clear the arrears any faster than you can afford to.If your supplier tries to make you pay an amount you can't afford, they may be going against the licence conditions, and you can make a complaint about them.
If you're on certain benefits, you can arrange to pay your fuel arrears direct from your benefit. This scheme is called fuel direct. You must be getting on of the following benefits to qualify for fuel direct:
income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
income-related Employment and Support Allowance
Fuel direct is often cheaper and more convenient than a prepayment meter. And you won't run out of gas or electricity. The amount you pay will be based on an estimate of your ongoing energy usage and a fixed amount towards repaying the money you owe.
To arrange fuel direct, get in touch with Jobcentre Plus and your fuel supplier. Jobcentre Plus will contact your supplier to check that they agree with you paying this way.
In England, Scotland and Wales, find details of how to contact Jobcentre Plus at:
The Home Heat Helpline offers advice on energy efficiency and fuel debts to people on a low income. The Helpline can also make sure that if you're in one of the groups of people who should get extra protection from disconnection, you're not at risk of being cut off. You can contact the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.
Help with making a complaint: The Energy Ombudsman
The Energy Ombudsman service is free to consumers. You can bring a complaint to the ombudsman if it remains unresolved after 8 weeks or if the energy company issues a deadlock letter. They will investigate the facts and make fair and independent decisions that are binding on the companies (but you do not have to accept this if you remain unhappy with the ombudsman decision). Find out more in the Energy Ombudsman consumer leaflet [ 0.84 MB] or visit www.ombudsman-services.org .
Getting financial help - frequently asked questions
If you were born on or before 5 July 1952 or live with someone born on or before that date, you may be able to get a Winter Fuel Payment to help with fuel costs over the winter.
If you are on a low income, you may also qualify for the Warm Home Discount Scheme. This gives a rebate of £135 on your electricity bill for this winter. Someone in your household will automatically qualify if they are under 75 and only get the Guaranteed part of Pension Credit, or are over 75 and get the Guaranteed part of Pensions Credit even if they also get the Savings part. If you are unsure if this applies to you, contact your energy supplier to find out.
Depending on your circumstances, you might also qualify for other grants or forms of assistance. These schemes can vary across the UK and are run by a variety of organisations.
For more information about energy grants and schemes:
Cold Weather Payments can help people who are in receipt of certain benefits with their additional heating costs during winter.
Payments are made when the weather station linked to your area forecasts or records an average daily temperature of 0 degrees centigrade or less for seven days in a row. If you are entitled to cold weather payments, you will automatically be sent a payment of £25 for each period of cold weather.
You do not have to make a claim for a Cold Weather Payment, but if you think you should receive one and you are not paid, you can make a written claim to your local benefit office. If they refuse to make a payment and you still think you are entitled, you can ask for the decision to be looked at again or you can appeal to an independent tribunal.
If you are on a low income, you might qualify for the Warm Home Discount scheme . This gives a rebate of £135 towards the electricity account of eligible households. You should contact your electricity supplier directly to find out if you qualify.
You can also get help from various schemes across the UK which can help make your home more efficient and keep your bills down.You can find out what schemes are available from the Energy Saving Trust or by calling 0300 123 1234 in England or Wales. In Scotland contact Home Energy Scotland 0808 808 2282. You can also find out about schemes by visiting www.adviceguide.org.uk and searching for grants and schemes to help you save money.
You can contact your local Energy Advice Saving centre for information on energy savings schemes and grants in your area. You can find your local centre on freephone 0300 123 1234 (England and Wales) 0800 512 012 (Scotland) or on the Energy Savings Trust's website:
The Warm Home Discount gives a discount of £135 off your electricity bill if you’re eligible in 2013/14.
If you are a pensioner and meet the criteria below, you should receive the discount automatically and do not need to apply. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will write to you directly to confirm your eligibility.
under 75 in receipt of the Guaranteed Element of pension credit only or
over 75 in receipt of the Guaranteed Element of pension credit only or
over 75 and receive both the Guaranteed and Savings Elements.
All other low income households should contact their energy supplier directly to find out if they qualify, as the criteria may vary slightly between supplier.
Please note that while the scheme is compulsory for the six largest suppliers, smaller suppliers do not have to offer you this discount and can choose to do so on a voluntary basis.
Surviving Winter is a UK-wide campaign to encourage people to make donations to help older and vulnerable people affected by fuel poverty this winter. The campaign is inspired by people who want to recycle their Winter Fuel Payment to support older and vulnerable people. Local community foundations all over the UK are co-ordinating the campaign. What they collect is targeted directly to help those locally who struggle to stay safe through the winter.
If you can’t pay an energy bill, you should contact your supplier as soon as possible to explain the situation and make an offer to repay the arrears at a realistic level for you. It can be worrying, but the longer you leave it the worse it will get.
When you contact your supplier, they must give you advice on how to pay back any money you owe and offer you a payment plan that takes into consideration how much you can afford to regularly pay. If you have energy arrears, you may also have other debts which need to be dealt with. You should seek the help of an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.
It is very unusual to be disconnected if you’re behind with your energy bills, but you shouldn’t put off contacting them. If you don’t let them know you are struggling, they may think you simply do not want to pay.
All the energy suppliers have to follow certain rules on how they should treat customers who are having trouble paying. If you can’t pay your bill, you should be offered an arrangement to pay off your arrears at a rate you can afford. If you can’t afford to do this, the supplier must offer to install a prepayment meter. If you are a pensioner, have long-term ill health, are disabled or have severe financial problems you may also have extra protection from being disconnected. If you have been disconnected, or are threatened with disconnection, and have not been able to sort things out with your energy supplier, you should contact Citizens Advice consumer helpline on: 0845 404 0506.
If you're facing disconnection, or haven't been able to keep to a payment plan, your energy supplier may offer to install a prepayment meter. If you're in this situation, you may have to accept a prepayment meter if you want to keep your energy supply. A prepayment meter will allow you to pay a fixed amount off your arrears at the same time as paying for the energy you're currently using.
Most suppliers provide some emergency credit, which means you can carry on using energy for a while after your top-up runs out. However, if you dip into the emergency credit, you still need to pay for it, so you will need to factor in this cost next time you do top up.
If you’re struggling to top up your prepayment meter, contact your energy supplier immediately to make them aware of the situation. They may be able to reduce the level of debt repayment or offer you a lower priced tariff. Ask whether they offer any schemes to help customers facing financial hardship. In extreme circumstances you may be able to apply for a Local Welfare Assistance payment from your local council. Schemes differ between areas so check the criteria where you live.