What can you do if you can’t pay your energy bill? Find out what help is available for your gas and electricity bills.
With the energy price cap rising by 5% on 1 January, most will be paying more than last winter when you factor in the government’s £400 energy bills rebate all households received then. While we are seeing more fixed energy deals return to the market, none offer big savings against the cap.
UK energy debt is already in excess of £2.6 billion and National Energy Action figures show that over 6.5 million households will be in fuel poverty across the UK from January (see will energy prices go down? for what’s likely to happen in 2024).
Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action, said: “For two years we’ve been warning that people’s lives are in danger from sky-high energy prices and the situation is only getting worse from January. The failure to provide additional support in the Autumn Statement means the poorest households are living in cold and unsafe homes this winter, with grave consequences for people’s health and well-being.”
Without any government intervention, we’ve full info below on what you can do now if you can’t pay your energy bill, and the support available.
1. Need help with energy bills? Speak to your energy supplier ASAP
If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, the best thing you can do is contact your supplier as soon as possible and let them know. Under Ofgem regulations, your supplier must help you if you can’t afford to pay your energy bills. They can give you a few options depending on your circumstances. These include:
- A review of your payments and debt repayments
- Payment breaks or reductions
- More time to pay
- Access to hardship funds
- Advice on how to use less energy
From December, new Ofgem rules will force suppliers to contact you if you miss two monthly repayments or one quarterly one. Your provider will have to check in with you to see if you’re struggling with your bills, and, if you are, offer assistance in the form of either an affordable repayment plan, or a payments holiday. They will also have to prioritise calls from vulnerable customers and offer free methods of contact to people who are struggling.
On prepay? You can get ‘emergency credit’
If you’re a low-income household on a prepayment meter, you can ask for ‘emergency credit’. You can get around £5 emergency credit on your meter, but this can vary depending on your supplier. The emergency fund usually becomes available when you have around 50p or less on your meter for electricity and less than £2 for gas.
Forced prepayment meter installations banned for over-75s and those with young children
Your energy supplier cannot force a new prepayment meter if you’re over 75 or have children under two. Find out about the forced prepayment meter ban.
If you’re worried about your supplier forcing you onto a prepayment meter, Ofgem rules that came into effect this September will put you at ease. Since an investigation by The Times found British Gas was force-fitting prepayment meters into vulnerable homes during the energy crisis, Ofgem set out the following in a new code of practice:
- There is a ban on the forceful fitting of prepayment meters in high-risk households requiring continuous supply for health reasons, including all aged 75+, those with children under 2, and residents with severe health issues or medical dependencies.
- Suppliers should offer an alternative method of repayment before suggesting moving you onto a prepayment meter.
- Firms must try to contact you at least 10 times before a prepay meter is installed and should come out to your home for a welfare visit first.
- If you do get moved onto a prepayment meter, your supplier must provide £30 top-up credit to your meter.
2. Get financial help from your energy firm
Several energy suppliers offer hardship funds. In some cases they include grants that don’t have to be repaid, and debt being written off up to a certain amount. For example, E.on recently announced a reduction of up to 50% of the October energy price cap for customers on low incomes.
In most cases you need to be an existing customer. But the British Gas Energy Trust offers help to anyone – you don’t have to be a customer.
It’s worth noting that, in most cases, you’ll need to have spoken to an independent debt advisor before applying.
|Energy supplier||Help available||Eligibility criteria||How to apply|
|British Gas||Grant of up to £1,500 helping to write off energy debt.||Must have outstanding debt on gas, electricity or dual fuel energy account on your main residence. Account holder must apply. You must not have savings above £1,000, or received a grant from British Gas Energy Trust within last two years.||Via British Gas Energy Trust website.|
|EDF||Customer Support Fund for those facing financial hardship. Also help buying energy-efficient white goods.||Customers must sign onto the Priority Services Register (see below). Must supply details of your household finances and vulnerability.||Via EDF Customer Support Fund.|
|E.on||E.on Energy Fund provides cash grants to help with energy bill arrears. Also help with buying white goods or boiler replacement.||You must be the homeowner. Individuals with the greatest needs prioritised.||Via E.on Energy Fund.|
|Octopus Energy||Octo Assist Fund can provide grants to offset high energy bills and standing charge waivers. You can also be loaned a thermal imaging camera to detect heat leaks in your home.||Octopus encourages all customers struggling with their bills to contact them.||Via Octopus website.|
|OVO Energy||Winter Support Package opens 16 October.||TBC, but you’ll need to supply your monthly disposable income.||Via OVO Winter Support Package.|
|ScottishPower||ScottishPower Hardship Fund provides grants of up to £750 to help get energy payments under control.||Customers must be receiving Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit, or Employment and Support Allowance. Support also available to low-income households, or where income has been reduced due to illness.||Via ScottishPower Hardship Fund.|
|Shell Energy||Shell Energy has a Helpfund with bespoke grants to customers most in need of support. Also offers additional £150 to customers who receive Warm Home Discount.||Individuals with greatest needs prioritised.||Via Shell Energy website.|
The help available above is for those living in England, Scotland or Wales.
In addition, Scottish Gas, E.on Next, EDF and Utility Warehouse partner with Charis Grants to offer extra help with energy bills. It also intends to reopen its Let’s Talk Energy Fund in October 2023. Rebel Energy also has a scheme coming soon.
Eligibility for a hardship fund can vary and as funds are limited, and it can take weeks to process your application. The best thing you can do is, before applying, speak to a debt advisor and do an expenditure/ budget sheet. This should include an explanation of how your energy debt has built up, plus proof of income.
E.on Next customer on a low income? Could you get 50% off your bill?
In addition, E.on Next is offering a reduction of up to half of Ofgem’s October energy price cap for customers on a low income. Find out if you’re eligible for up to 50% off your bill.
3. Get on the Priority Services Register
Being on the Priority Services Register (PRS) means you can get extra support and advice for free if you can’t pay your energy bill, and if an interruption occurs to your electricity, gas or water.
Ofgem says you’re eligible if you:
- Have reached your state pension age
- Are disabled or have a long-term medical condition
- Are recovering from an injury
- Have a hearing or sight condition
- Have a mental health condition
- Are pregnant or have young children
- Have extra communication needs (for example, if you don’t speak or read English well)
You might still be able to register for other reasons if your situation isn’t listed. For example, if you need short-term support after a stay in hospital.
How do I apply to get on the Priority Services Register?
You can apply by contacting your energy supplier. Give them your contact details and as much information as you can about your needs. Or you can use the Priority Services Register (PRS) website.
Your supplier can pass your details to your network operator to add you to their register too. Ofgem recommends doing this, especially if you rely on your energy supply for medical reasons. If you have a different supplier for your gas and electricity, you need to contact them both.
To give you the support you need, the PRS is connected to local emergency services. Also, if you experience a power outage and you rely on gas, electricity or water in your home for medical needs, PRS will deliver portable generators or bottles of water.
The PRS provides emergency electrical heating and cooking appliances too if there is an interruption to your main gas supply for a prolonged period.
4. Check if you qualify for state help with energy bills
The Warm Home Discount scheme provides a £150 discount on your winter energy bill if you meet the criteria. This is a one-off £150 rebate applied to your gas or electricity bill between October and March.
Winter Fuel Payments of between £250 and £600 are available if you receive the state pension. How much you get depends on your age and circumstances.
Cold Weather Payments are for people claiming certain benefits or support for mortgage interest. It’s paid when the average temperature in their area is recorded or forecast to be zero degrees celsius or below over seven consecutive days. You can get £25 per week.
Cost of living payments of £900 will be paid to households on certain means-tested benefits. The first instalment has already been paid, with the next £300 due between 31 October and 19 November 2023.
Are you eligible for the Household Support Fund?
It’s also worth checking with your local council to see if you can access the Household Support Fund. It provides vulnerable people with grants or funded support for everyday necessities, including energy bills. You can find your local council’s website at GOV.UK.
5. Get help with insulation costs and replace your boiler
Other schemes are available to help improve your home’s energy efficiency and reduce your bills. For instance, the Great British Insulation Scheme offers part or fully subsidised insulation to homes in England, Scotland and Wales with low energy efficiency, on a lower council tax band.
And the Boiler Upgrade Scheme provides grants of up to £7,500 towards the cost and installation of a heat pump that replaces an old boiler. It’s estimated that switching from an old gas boiler to an air source heat pump should save £385 a year on energy bills. This scheme is open to homeowners in England and Wales.
6. Keep paying what you can afford
Whatever happens, do not cancel your direct debit, or stop paying energy bills. This will leave your energy account in debt – a debt which will have to be paid. This can hurt your credit score – making life more expensive whenever you want to borrow money or take out a new phone, broadband or utility contract.
It can also lead to future utility providers not allowing you to pay your bills by Direct Debit. And in the worst-case scenario, you can end up with a court summons from your energy provider.
Gary Rycroft, a solicitor, spells out some of the consequences: “If you are in breach of your contract, ultimately they can cut you off. Your credit score will tank and you run the risk of getting a county court judgement (CCJ) which will make life difficult if you’re trying to rent, remortgage or take out a credit card or personal loan. We’re talking about being affected for months and years down the line.”
So rather than take matters into your own hands, be sure to speak to your supplier if you need help with your energy bills.
7. What charities could help me with energy costs?
If you need bespoke help, there are charities out there that can offer support. Debt advice charity StepChange offers free, impartial guidance. It is worth speaking to someone if you have no way of paying your bills, as they may be able to help come up with repayment plans and speak to your energy supplier for you.