Money owed to your current energy supplier is classed as a priority debt. The law gives your energy supplier the power to disconnect your gas or electricity if you do not pay. If you are behind with your gas or electricity bills or not making regular payments, it is essential to make contact with your supplier to negotiate a repayment arrangement. If you have other debt you should seek advice from a debt specialist to explore your options and to help you put together a budget/financial statement.
Checking your bills
The energy regulator, Ofgem, has stated that a domestic customer should not be billed for more than the energy they have used over the previous year. If you have been billed for a full year you should ask your supplier if you can make repayments, over the same period of time. There are steps you can take to avoid hardship if you have received a bill that is much higher than anticipated.
Estimated readings can be wrong and you may end up with a much higher bill so by taking readings yourself and sending them to your supplier you will have an accurate picture of what you are using and what your bills actually are. You will also be more alert to recognising a problem if the bill is higher than usual. Your bill might not be as expected for a variety of reasons: estimated readings, readings from the wrong meter, a mistake in the meter readings or even a faulty meter.
Moving into a new home
If you are not sure who is supplying your home you can visit the Citizens Advice website to ‘find out who your gas and electricity supplier is’, in addition they have information on ‘how to read your meter’.
When you move out of or into a new home, in order to ensure you receive an accurate bill, it is important to take meter readings of both properties and send or telephone these readings to your new and old suppliers. Your supplier should provide you with information, but if you are moving out try and give your supplier at least 48 hours’ notice. You also need to ensure when moving into a new home you are not billed for a previous occupiers energy usage, hence why, taking a reading is important.
Energy resold by your landlord
You may make energy payments direct to your landlord. This is where the landlord pays for the gas and/or electricity and resells it directly to you. The energy regulator Ofgem sets out the maximum charge, that your landlord can resell gas and electricity on to you. From 1 January 2003 the maximum price at which gas or electricity may be resold is the same price as that paid by the person who is reselling it ("the reseller"), including any standing charges.
Rights of tenants
If you are a tenant and responsible for paying your own energy bills, you have the right to choose your supplier and also the choice of how your payments are made.
If you have unmanageable energy debt, you may be able to obtain help from trust funds or hardship funds. Some energy companies have set up funds to assist customers in hardship, to clear energy debts.
The following organisations can provide further information about funds and support schemes;
Auriga Services: www.aurigaservices.co.uk (have produced a booklet called Help with Water & Energy) .
British Gas Energy Trust: www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk (will accept applications, even if you have a different supplier) . You can obtain a copy of their application form from their website.
Charis: www.lets-talk.online for information, contact details and an application form.
You could also contact your supplier to see if you could switch to a cheaper energy tariff, so that your energy costs are cheaper. It is also worth considering a cheaper tariff from another supplier.In addition your supplier may be able to help towards the cost of a more efficient boiler, or other energy efficiency measures.
Fuel Direct or 3rd Party Deductions
Fuel Direct is now known as third party deductions, the scheme, that helps you to pay your energy charges and energy debt directly from your benefits. An amount is taken to cover your ongoing energy usage and in addition a set amount is deducted for the money you owe. You will need to be in receipt of one of the following benefits, to be eligible; income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit or Universal Credit. You can contact your local Jobcentre for assistance in setting up the payments.
Vulnerability and Priority Services
If you have a medical or mental health condition which makes it harder for you to manage and/or read your meters ask your supplier to put you on their Priority Services Register so that you can receive extra help. The register helps service providers identify customers who may need extra help, or who need to be notified when energy supplies have to be disrupted and reconnected.
Examples of vulnerability and priority need customers are; pensioners, disabled customers or customers with a long-term medical condition, live with other adults who are all eligible or a child under five years old. Being on the register means you can get the following help or support; help to read your meter or have it moved, large-print letters and bills, password protection agreed with your supplier, so you know that the person calling is from your energy supplier, advance warning of any disruption or stoppage to your supply and
priority reconnection if your energy supply is disrupted. For homeowners in receipt of an income-based benefit, you may be offered a free, yearly gas safety check of your appliances in your home.
Preventing disconnection during the winter months
Certain activities concerning gas and electricity may only be carried out with a licence, regulated by Ofgem. Licences contain conditions that licence holders must abide by. Standard Licence Condition 27 provides protection for particular groups of customers during the winter. It states that if you are a domestic customer and you are; a pensioner living alone, or a pensioner living only with other pensioners or children under 18 years old, that your supply must not be disconnected during the winter months, ‘October, November, December, January, February or March’.
Energy UK’s Safety Net
Energy UK has a Safety Net policy that means vulnerable customers have protection from disconnection throughout the year. Under the Safety Net, member suppliers will not knowingly disconnect you at any time of year if, for reasons of age, health, disability or severe financial insecurity, or if you cannot protect your personal welfare or the personal welfare of other members of your household. If you would benefit from this protection, check to see if your supplier has signed up, as not all suppliers have. You should tell your supplier that you are vulnerable and that you need an affordable way of paying for your energy supply. Also ask to be put on the supplier’s Priority Services Register, if you are not already on it.
Your supplier will usually want their bill paid before the next bill is due, but this is not always possible. If you are in arrears, contact your supplier and ask for a payment arrangement based on what is more manageable. Your energy supplier should offer a choice of payment options and budgeting schemes to suit you. You can ask to pay your bills every week, every two weeks or every month, but it is important to budget for your ongoing gas and electricity bills. Ensure you pay for the energy you are using and an amount towards your debt, even while you are trying to come to an arrangement. Your supplier has to take into account your ability to make repayments and when they become aware must:
- make an agreement and accept payments by regular instalments, or
- use Fuel Direct if you are in receipt of particular benefits, or
- agree repayment through a prepayment meter, if one is appropriate for you, and
- provide information on energy efficiency to help you reduce your energy charges
If you cannot afford what the supplier is asking you to pay, it is worth asking for a special arrangement. You should be able to pay off your debt at a rate you can afford, even if this means spreading the arrears over a longer period of time.
Change in circumstances
If your circumstances change and you can no longer afford the payments that you had first agreed with your supplier, you can contact them again to look at other options or to renegotiate.
If you have been unable to keep to payments on a payment plan, your supplier may suggest that a prepayment meter is fitted. With a prepayment meter, you pay in advance for the fuel that you are going to use. They can also be set to collect arrears from the money that you put into the meter. Before action is taken to disconnect your supply, you must be asked if you want a prepayment meter.
If your supplier does fits a meter instead of disconnecting your supply, they should not charge more than £150. If you do not think that it is safe for you to use a prepayment meter for whatever reason: such as your health, disability, or where the meter is located, speak to your supplier. Action must be taken to either make it safe for you to use, or offer you a different payment method. You cannot be forced to have a prepayment meter to recover debt if by doing so would be severely traumatic for you, due to your mental or psychological state. Instead, a more suitable method of collecting the debt should be arranged with you. If your condition, disability or vulnerability has prevented you from dealing with your energy debt, the supplier should not charge you for fitting a prepayment meter.
If you are on benefits but opt for a prepayment meter instead of the fuel direct scheme, ask your supplier to set the repayments at the same rate that they would of with Fuel Direct scheme. Until the end of 2020, Ofgem has introduced a temporary price cap to limit the cost of energy of traditional prepayment meters. Ofgem estimates that this should reduce the typical bill for gas by around £80 each year and by the same amount if you get Economy 7 electricity. Please note however, that this price cap does not apply to smart meters.
Time Limits and Disconnection
You will be given 28 days from the date of your bill to make payment, after this time your supplier can start action that could lead to disconnection. If you have a pre agreed arrangement in place, your supplier can only start action 28 working days from the date that you missed the payment. Both electricity and gas suppliers must give you seven working days’ notice in writing that they are going to disconnect your supply because you have not paid your bill. Your supplier will only disconnect your supply as a last resort and after giving you the opportunity and options to make payments using different methods. In addition they must give you proper notice first before disconnecting you.
If you have a genuine dispute about your electricity or gas bill, your supplier should not take steps to disconnect your supply.
Children and Social Services
If you have children, you may want to consider contacting your local social services department. The Children Act 1989 enables social services the power to make payments under certain circumstances to families with children. Tell your supplier that you have contacted social services as they must delay cutting you off if social services are looking into your case. The supplier will usually hold action for 14 working days but may agree to delay for a longer period. This could give you time to make an arrangement to pay.
It is important that an agreement is reached before disconnection occurs, otherwise you will have to pay for your existing debt and for reconnection as well.
Legal Entry and Warrant
If a repayment arrangement has not been agreed, your supplier can apply for a warrant from the magistrates’ court, making it legal for them to enter your home, in order to disconnect your energy supply. You will usually be informed when the magistrates' court hearing will take place. You should contact a local advice agency for advice or to see if you can get support at the hearing if you are wanting to stop the warrant.
It won't be too late to contact your supplier to make an affordable offer of repayment before you go to court, but, if you do go to court, take copies of your budget to help evidence the offer you are proposing. Also take any other evidence you wish to present to the court. This could be information about; a dispute about the amount, the actions and behaviour of the supplier, actions you have taken, what offers of payment you have made and when, what the effect of a disconnection would have on your household, especially for children, people who are ill or who are elderly living in your home, disabled members of your household and your budget.
If you don’t have a representative, you may be allowed to have a friend with you for support. It is the discretion of the court, as to whether they can speak on your behalf. If the court grants the warrant, your supplier must give you seven days’ notice before they can use the warrant to enter and disconnect your supply.
Once the outstanding amount has been paid or you have agreed a repayment plan with the supplier, reconnection should occur within 24 hours (from the start of the next working day if outside working hours). To get your supply reconnected, you will have to pay the original energy debt, a reconnection fee and any administrative costs you have been charged, as long as they are reasonable. You may also have to pay a security deposit if you don’t want a prepayment meter. However you cannot be asked to pay a security deposit if you agree to have a prepayment meter fitted.
If you are not happy with the way you have been treated by your supplier start by making a complaint to them directly, to see if they can put matters right. You should ask for their code of practice and complaints procedure. This gives you the information you need to complain in a constructive manner. The code of practice may give you the words to describe exactly how the supplier has not met your expectations as well as meeting their own standards. The complaints procedure will explain the process of registering a complaint.
Resolver is a free service to help you write to your supplier and to pass your complaint on to the Energy Ombudsman Service.
After eight weeks if your complaint has not been resolved or you are not happy with the outcome and you have received a deadlock letter giving your supplier’s final response to your complaint, you can escalate your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman. If your complaint is with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), you can escalate your complaint after six weeks.
Further Help with Energy Bills
Warm Home Discount
You may be eligible for the Warm Home Discount automatically if you received the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit on a particular date . A set amount will be taken directly off your electricity or gas bill.
You may also be entitled to the Warm Home Discount if you are on a low income and;
- you are in receipt of benefits and have a young child under five years old, or
- someone who is disabled or has a long-term illness lives in your household, or
- you spend more than 10% of your income on heating your home
Contact your energy supplier if you are not getting the Warm Home Discount and you think you should be. Their scheme may be full, but you may be able to try another time.
Winter Fuel Payment
If you have reached Pension Credit age (by the third Monday in September) you may be entitled to a lump sum payment. This is from £100 to £300 each year. You can contact the Winter Fuel Payment Centre on 0800 731 0160.
Cold Weather Payment
You may get a this Payment if you are in receipt of certain benefits and the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below for seven consecutive days. If you meet the eligibility criteria, you get a payment of £25 for each seven-day period of very cold weather. This is between 1st November and 31st March. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) automatically pays it into the same account which is used to deposit your benefit, and payments are within 14 days of the end of each cold weather period. You may be eligible if you are in receipt of: Pension Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit.
See the Cold Weather Payment for further information.
Affordable Warmth Obligation
You may be successful in getting a grant through the Affordable Warmth Obligation for insulation and heating improvements. This is sometimes called the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). For further information see the Energy Saving Trust website for more information.
Energy saving help
See if your energy supplier offers energy-saving schemes and discounts, for example, a grant, a loan to help with insulation, draught proofing, central heating and other energy-saving initiatives. The Simple Energy Advice website has helpful information about these schemes. Contact them on 0800 444 202 or to use the government calculator which tells you what help you can get with energy grants and heating costs. In Wales, you can also apply for free energy grants and help through the Nest scheme. Contact Nest on 0808 808 2244 or use a call back request form on their website (contact details below).
Citizens Advice consumer service
T: 0345 404 0506
Energy Saving Trust
T: 0808 808 2244
Ombudsman Services: Energy
T: 0330 440 1624
Simple Energy Advice
T: 0800 444 202