What do I need to know about energy debt
Find out all you need to know about energy debt and how it could affect you
If you’re finding it difficult to pay for your gas and electricity, you’re not alone. Right across the UK, thousands of people are struggling to keep up with their energy bills.
You may be worrying about having your electricity cut off, but this really is a last resort for the energy companies. Before that happens, they will do all they can to help you catch up and stay on top of your bills.
That’s why, if you’re falling behind with your energy payments, the first thing you should do is get in touch with your supplier.
How can my energy supplier help me?
Energy suppliers have to follow set procedures to help you manage your payments. They must:
- Explain how you can pay back the money you owe
- Offer you a payment plan based on what you can afford
What do I need to do?
To start with, make a list of all the money you’ve got coming in (your wages, benefits, pension etc)
Then write down what you regularly spend each month – on your rent or mortgage, food, travel, groceries, toiletries, travel costs and so on
Also add in any large one-off payments that you have to meet – such as insurance or road tax
Use this list to agree an affordable payment plan for your energy debt. Don’t let your supplier set a payment level that you can’t manage.
What kind of payment plan will they offer me?
It could be weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
Some of the money will be used to pay for the gas and electricity you’re currently using, and some will go towards your energy arrears.
This gives you a way to repay your debt gradually over time, so you don’t have to find large lump sums that could make your problems worse.
What happens if I can’t keep to the plan?
It’s very important to agree a plan you can keep to, but if things go wrong and you fall behind again, your supplier may decide to install a repayment meter in your home.
How does a repayment meter work?
A repayment meter in your home means you pay for your energy as you use it. It’s a great way to help you budget, clear off any debt and make sure you don’t get any big bills.
You top up your meter like a mobile phone, with a token, key or smartcard.
As with your payment plan, some of the money you put in will pay for your current energy use, and some will be used to pay off your debt. Once again, your supplier can only collect your fuel arrears at a rate you can afford.
A repayment meter puts you in control of the amount you spend on energy. You’ll be able to see exactly what you’re using at any time, which will encourage you to go and turn off any lights or appliances you’re not actually using.
However, the disadvantage of a repayment meter is that if you run out of money to top it up with, you won’t be able to get any gas or electricity. If you find your meter is disconnecting itself all the time, get in touch with your supplier and ask them about changing your debt repayment level.
Our disconnection policy
Sometimes our customers fall behind with their payments. If so, we may warn them that we’ll apply for a warrant to disconnect them.
We’d always prefer not to do this. Instead, before we apply for a warrant, we’ll do our best to:
- Help our clients make their payments.
- Tell them where they can get independent advice.
- Give them every opportunity to pay their debt.
This web page tells you how we try to help our clients, and explains which kind of customers we can never disconnect.
How can Boost help if I have trouble making my payments?
If we know you’re struggling to keep up with your energy bills, we can:
- Set up a payment plan for you, with regular affordable instalments.
- Send you useful info to help you use your energy more efficiently and save money.
- We’ll also need to consider how much we can take from your prepayment meter and still leave you enough credit for the gas and electricity you need in your home.
Does disconnection mean I’ll have no energy at all?
It can do. If we’ve tried every other option, we can stop your supply.
However, we could also reduce your supply so you still have some gas and electricity in your home.
Can you disconnect people who are old or ill?
Before we disconnect anyone, we must do everything we can to check if they’re old, disabled, or ill. If they’re pensioners, we also need to check whether they’re living on their own, or living only with other pensioners or children.
We definitely can’t disconnect someone during the winter months (October - March) if they’re old enough to qualify for a state pension and:
- Live alone.
- Or live only with other pensioners.
- Or live only with young people aged under 18.
- If someone is disabled or chronically ill, their age doesn’t matter – we have to do all we can to avoid disconnecting them during the winter.
Can I pay straight from my benefits?
If you get Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit, you can pay your fuel arrears direct from your benefit payments. This can be cheaper and easier than a repayment meter, and you won’t run out of gas or electricity.
This is called Fuel Direct. It’s run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP),and they will decide how much you should pay.
To arrange this, talk to JobCentre Plus – find out how at this page. They will need to get your energy provider’s permission for you to pay from your benefits.
Would it help to switch suppliers?
No matter which energy company you’re currently with, it’s always worth checking the market regularly to see if you could save money by switching. Thousands of people in the UK are still paying expensive tariffs because their suppliers haven’t bothered to tell them about better deals that could help them.
Can I change my gas or electricity suppliers even if I’m in arrears with my energy bills?
Many people think they can’t switch to a new energy supplier if they’re in fuel arrears.
In fact, you can change your gas or electricity supplier if you’re in debt, as long as you owe less than £500 and you’re on a repayment meter – and provided your new supplier agrees to accept you as a customer. You may even be able to switch if you’re on a normal meter.
However, if you owe more than £500, you’ll need to reduce your debt to £500 before you can switch.
Are there any grants and allowances that could help me get through the winter?
Cold weather payments
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) provides a special cold weather payment, to help qualifying households manage when the temperature falls below zero for seven days in a row.
You’ll almost certainly qualify for DWP cold weather payments if you get Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
Winter fuel allowance
If you’re old enough to get a state pension, you could get the winter fuel payment (also known as the winter fuel allowance), a tax-free heating allowance. It’s a yearly one-off payment that isn’t linked to temperature, and if you’re on a state pension you’ll get it automatically.
Warm home discount
This is a government initiative that provides rebates on energy bills – it was £140 for winter 2014/15. You get a warm home discount as a one-off discount on your energy bill, or as a voucher if you have a pre-payment meter. It’s usually paid sometime between October and March. To qualify, your energy supplier needs to have signed up to the scheme, and you should be getting the guarantee credit element of Pension Credit.
How can I use less gas and electricity?
Here are some affordable ways to save energy in your home:
- When you boil a kettle, only use as much water as you need
- Turn appliances off at the wall – don’t leave them on standby
- Use energy-saving light bulbs
- Defrost your freezer regularly
- Make draught excluders for outside doors, windows and letterboxes.
- When using your washing machine, never set it higher than 30˚
Where can I get independent advice and help with energy debt?
There are various places where you can ask for help and advice on fuel debt. We’ve listed some of them here, and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau will be able to tell you about others.
Home Heat Helpline Telephone: 0800 33 66 99
Telephone: 08454 04 05 06
Textphone: 18001 08454 04 05 05
StepChange Debt Charity
Telephone: 0800 138 1111
Energy Supply Ombudsman
Telephone: 0330 440 1624
Textphone: 0330 440 1600
Telephone: 0808 808 4000