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How to get help paying your energy bills

By Aaron Howdle | Thursday, February 25th 2021

These are uncertain times. Many of us are in a more precarious situation than we may realise. A change in the state of our health, or employment can make it hard to pay our bills, and this can happen a lot more quickly than most of us like to think. If the worst happens and you find yourself struggling to pay your energy bills, it is not the end of the world. The important thing is to seek that help.

In this guide we’ll look at where to find help with your energy bills if you are struggling to pay and what shape that help can take.

Where can I find advice?

If you find yourself struggling with your energy bills, your supplier can help, however it can be a good idea to do a bit of research before making contact. This way you will have a better idea of the possible options open to you.

Citizens Advice is the best place to start. Its website has a lot of useful information on the types of help available to you if you are suffering difficulties with your energy bills.

Getting help from your energy supplier

Contact your energy supplier to discuss what can be done to help with paying your bills. Your supplier is required to help you come up with a solution and it is usually possible to work something out.

If you do not contact your supplier to negotiate a solution you may eventually be disconnected, so it is always worth speaking to them about your difficulties.

If you have other debts such as credit cards, your energy bills take priority over these and should be paid before you address debts to credit cards, loans and so on.

Agreeing a payment plan with your energy supplier

If possible, you should arrange a payment plan with your supplier. This involves agreeing to pay a fixed amount on a weekly or monthly basis until your debt is paid off. When calculating what you can afford, remember you will still need to pay for your future energy use as well as your debt repayments. However it is not all bad, since your supplier must take into account how much you can afford to pay. You will need to go through your outgoings with them to arrive at an affordable figure.

When you go through your expenses with your energy supplier, be honest with yourself about the extent of your other bills and remember to include everything you have to pay for. It is easy to underestimate how much you need to pay every month for other bills, and you want to be sure you can afford to pay the amount agreed with your energy supplier.

If you can’t come to an agreement

If you are unable to agree a repayment plan with your supplier or if you don’t stick to a plan you previously agreed to, you may have a pre-payment meter forced upon you. It is best to avoid this if possible as they are inconvenient, imagine running out of electricity at 11pm. They can also be more expensive.

Eventually, if all else fails your supply may be disconnected.

Grants and benefits to help pay bills

There are a number of grants and benefits available to help with your energy bills or with energy bill debts. Some are aimed at specific groups of people. Here is a rundown of what is available.

  • Winter Fuel Payment – The winter fuel payment is designed to help the elderly stay warm in winter. It is usually available to those born before 5th October 1954. You can find more details here
  • Cold Weather Payments – These are one-off payments to help when the temperature falls below a specific temperature for a specific period of time.These payments are available to people on certain benefits. You can find out more here
  • The Warm Home Discount Scheme – A number of energy suppliers are part of this scheme. If your supplier is, then you may be able to get £140 off your electricity bill if you are on a low income or are in receipt of Pension Credit. You can find out more here

Grants

In addition to these schemes, there are a number of charitable trusts which can help you pay off energy debts. The British Gas Energy Trust does not require you to be one of its customers, however the other trusts are only open to their own customers.

The application form can be quite long, and will ask for details of your finances. It will help your application if you can show that you have already sought debt advice. Here is a list of the trusts which are available.

  • British Gas Energy Trust – This trust accepts applications from anyone, you do not need to be a British Gas customer. You can find more details on the British Gas website
  • npower Energy Fund – This fund is open to npower customers. You can find more details on the npower website
  • Scottish Power Hardship Fund – This fund is for Scottish power customers. You can find more details on th Scottish Power website
  • Ovo debt and energy assistance – Ovo customers can apply. You can find more details on the Ovo Energy website.
  • E.on Energy Fund – This fund is open to customers of E.on. You can find more details on the E.on website
  • EDF Energy Customer Support Fund – This fund is open to customers of EDF Energy. You can find more details on the EDF website
  • Bulb Energy Fund – This fund is open to customers of Bulb Energy. You can find more details on the Bulb energy website

Other providers may also be willing to help you if you ask.

How to get help if you receive benefits

If you receive state benefits, it is possible to pay off your energy debt through your benefits using the Fuel Direct Scheme. If you decide to take this route, a fixed amount will be deducted from your benefits to cover what you owe, eventually paying off your debt.

This option is available to people who receive Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit and Universal Credit (if you are not working).

Contact your Jobcentre and tell them you want to set up Fuel Direct. They will contact your energy supplier to set it up. Your supplier must agree to this.

Frequently asked questions

Where can I find help if I am struggling with my bills?

The best place to start is Citizens Advice. Here you will find out about the various paths open to you.

Do I need to be a customer of an energy company to apply for a grant from it’s hardship fund?

With the exception of British Gas, which accepts applications from everyone, you will need to be a customer of the company you apply to.

What happens if I can’t keep up payments on a debt payment plan?

If you have agreed to pay off a debt using a payment plan, you should contact your energy supplier. It may be possible to reduce your payments. If you do not keep to the plan or make a new arrangement you may be put on a pre-pay meter.

What is the best way to contact my supplier if I am having trouble with my bills?

If possible, you should contact your supplier by telephone and speak to its debt management team. You will often need to give quite a lot of details, including your monthly outgoings, so have this prepared in advance.

How can I save money on my energy bills?

Switching energy suppliers regularly can save you quite a bit on your energy bills. Use a comparison site to find the cheapest deal for you. There are also lots of things you can do around the home to reduce your energy usage and therefore save money – there are lots of handy tips in our guide to lowering your energy bills.

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