How to cope when you're having trouble paying your bills
As energy prices continue to rise, many people are struggling to pay their bills. The Government has introduced a cap on a typical bill at an average £2,500 this winter, but there are still various forms of financial support available for those who need it. In this guide we walk you through the options available.
If you find yourself struggling to pay your energy bills, contact your supplier as soon as possible. Under rules from the regulator Ofgem, your supplier must help you negotiate a payment plan that you can afford.
Suppliers can offer a range of options to help you if you're struggling. These may include:
Access to hardship funds
A full payment plan review
If you are struggling to pay your bills, help is available. The amount and type of assistance you can get will vary from case to case, but your ability to repay will be taken into consideration. So contact your supplier immediately.
Installation of prepayment meters has been halted until 31st of March.
Suppliers of energy can install prepayment meters on consumers' homes to recover outstanding debts.
Following reports that some households were being forcibly switched despite being clearly vulnerable, regulator Ofgem has temporarily paused forced installations of prepayment meters.
Suppliers are permitted to switch customers to prepayment meters – but only when all other options have been explored, and the supplier has given you a chance to repay the debt.
If you have a smart meter, your supplier can switch you to a prepay tariff without your consent. If you do not have a smart meter, your supplier will need to obtain a court warrant before forcing you to get one.
Suppliers can only force you to have a prepayment meter if:
It has taken all reasonable steps to agree payment with you. This could be by offering repayment plans or similar options. If it hasn't and installs a device without your agreement, it isn't permitted to turn it on.
It is easy for you to use, for example they would not be able to install one if your meter is hard to reach or you need a continuous supply for health reasons.
Suppliers cannot force-fit a prepay meter on a vulnerable customer who does not want one.
Vulnerable people include those who:
Are at at state pension age
It is the supplier's responsibility to follow the correct process for putting you on prepayment.
A valid reason for the switch, such as recovering a debt you owe the supplier after falling behind with paying your bills.
Utility companies are required to provide at least seven working days' notice before switching your meter into prepayment mode.
If your supplier has not followed the correct processes and procedures, or if it has put you on prepay when it should not have, you can raise a formal complaint. To do this, contact the supplier directly or use Resolver's free complaints tool (which covers most suppliers).
If you've already tried to resolve your dispute directly with the firm, and it's been more than eight weeks since you lodged your formal complaint (or you've received a deadlock letter), then you can take it to the free Energy Ombudsman.
If your energy supplier disconnects your power after you run out of money on a prepayment meter, contact it immediately. The charity Citizens Advice estimates 3.2 million people in Britain last year ran out of credit on their prepayment meter as they couldn't afford to top up, so make sure you are getting all the support you are entitled to.
Energy companies will take the following steps:
Suppliers usually offer a small amount of emergency credit for gas and electricity meters. This can be accessed through the meter when you have little money left on it. The option to use it is usually made available when you've little money left on your meter (usually about less than 50p for electricity, or £2 for gas).
You can access your meter remotely by inserting your key or card into the meter, or clicking a button when the option pops up on your screen. Your supplier will be able to tell you how it works for your meter.
Friendly credit means that you can continue to use gas and electricity even if your meter runs out of credit. Friendly credit is there to protect you if you start running out of credit when the shops are closed. It means you won't be cut off, and can keep using gas and electricity if you run out of credit during evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Generally, you will not be cut off between about 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. Monday to Saturday, all day Sunday, and on bank holidays. You will need to pay back any credit used during this time the next time you top up your account.
If you are not able to afford to keep money on your electricity meter and face disconnection through being unable to pay your electricity bill, you may be eligible for additional support credit (or extra support credit). The amount of additional support credit you get, how it works and if you're eligible will depend on your supplier, so speak with it as soon as possible.
Additional support credit is usually available to people who are vulnerable or have a disability. Suppliers can assess how much additional credit you'll get and work with you to come up with a repayment plan, based on your ability to pay.
If you find yourself unable to top up your electricity meter, your supplier may be able to offer support. It may still be able to offer support credit or review any debts you may be paying off through your meter. Hardship funds are also available on a case-by-case basis, so it's worth getting in touch with your supplier as soon as possible.
To protect customers who have stopped paying their bills, the regulator Ofgem has strengthened regulations for suppliers of prepayment meters. These companies must now contact customers that have self-disconnected and offer them support for repaying any outstanding standing charges.
If you are vulnerable, register for Priority Services.
The Priority Services Register is a free support service for vulnerable customers, including those who have reached state pension age, have a long-term medical condition or have children under five. The service offers help with paying bills and provides information on how to save energy.
The assistance you will receive includes the following:
If you rely on energy supply for medical reasons, your network operator will notify you of planned power cuts in advance.
Network operators can provide heating and cooking facilities during unexpected power cuts.
To confirm that the person at your door is an energy or network employee, the company can arrange a password or picture card check if they need to visit you.
Nominee schemes allow you to assign someone else to manage your supplier communications and bills.
Regular meter reading services are offered for those who cannot easily read their own meters, or for those who are unable to do so.
Accessible information, such as bills and account information displayed in large print or Braille.
To get on the register, you'll need to contact your supplier and ask it to place you on its database of customers who have opted in to receiving marketing communications. You only need to contact one supplier as it can pass on your details to the network operator, who will then add you to its register.
If you have different suppliers for gas and electricity, contact both providers and request to be registered with them. Additionally, if you switch companies, make sure to inform your new supplier of this change.
The Government announced in May 2022 that it would give energy grants of £400 to all households with a domestic electricity meter in England, Scotland and Wales. Most households should have now received five payments. If you haven't received any payment yet, contact your electricity supplier.
For most customers, the grant will be paid automatically by your energy supplier between October 2022 and March 2023. However, if you have a non-smart prepayment meter you will need to take action to get the money. It will come as six separate payments: £66 in October and November; then £67 for the remaining four months. How exactly it's paid depends on how you pay for your energy and who your supplier is.
People who pay their electricity bills through an intermediary, such as those who pay landlords, should receive at least some of the £400 payment. Under new rules announced on July 6, intermediaries that receive the support payment are legally required to pass on the benefit in a "just and reasonable way".
However, you may not get the full rebate, as the intermediary may have to factor in other costs that they may have faced, such as providing energy to a common area or splitting the benefit if they charge multiple tenants based on a proportion of total usage.
The intermediary must provide you with a statement telling you what they have been paid under the scheme, how much will be passed on to you and when this will happen. This should be given to you within 30 days of them receiving the benefit.
If you do not receive all or part of the £400 that you think you are eligible for, or disagree with the amount, you will need to contact the intermediary to ask it to justify the amount. If there is still disagreement, the only way to further challenge it is to bring civil proceedings.