Falling behind on your energy bills can happen for any number of reasons. An extra cold winter, changes in income, unsuitable tariffs or payment methods, emergency and crisis situations and the impact of COVID-19 can all be to blame.
It’s also important to note that the cost of gas and electricity has risen continuously. Over the past 5 years, prices of gas and electricity have on average risen by around 40%. A family paying £100 a month in 2015, would now need to be paying £140 to cover their consumption.
Making contact with your supplier
If you get a large unexpected bill through the door, the most important thing to do is to not bury your head in the sand. This will only make the problem worse and harder to deal with further down the line.
There’s lots of support available to help you deal with debt and energy suppliers have to behave in a particular way when assisting you in repaying the debt.
Call your supplier as soon as possible. Dealing with debt can be stressful and worrying but remember to be calm, polite and courteous on the phone.
Before you make the call, you should check your bill to ensure:
- It has been billed on up to date meter readings – if not the bill may be inaccurate. You should take meter readings before contacting your supplier.
- All the payments you have made are shown on the statement.
- When was the last time you received a bill? You should get them regularly (either monthly or quarterly). If your supplier has issued a ‘catch up bill’ for energy used more than a year ago, this may fall under back-billing and they may have to remove some of the charges.
Negotiating debt repayment
When you make contact with your supplier, you’ll need to negotiate how you’re going to repay your debt. Your supplier must take into account your ability to pay and cannot insist on full payment upfront, or within a short period of time if you cannot afford it. There are a few options available to you on how to repay and the supplier should discuss these with you.
Arranging a repayment plan
The first option you have is to set up a repayment plan. This is where your supplier will recalculate your monthly consumption and add an amount on top of it to recover the debt. This will ensure you are covering your monthly usage so no more debt is accrued and also a contribution towards your debt.
A payment plan will usually be for 6 or 12 months, however, if the debt repayments are too high you can ask for this to be spread over a longer period of time, you may need to complete an income and expenditure form first.
Another option available to you is to have a prepayment meter installed. A prepayment meter can be calibrated to recover debt at a weekly rate or as a percentage of each top-up. This can usually be set as low as £3.75 per week, per meter.
You should only consider a prepayment meter if you are at risk of falling into debt again and cannot afford a debt repayment plan. If you do not have credit to top up the meter, you will ‘self-disconnect’ and lose supply until you can top it up again. You are also unable to access some of the cheaper tariffs on the market and your energy costs may increase as a result of this.
Another option you have is to sign up to what is known as Fuel Direct. This is where your energy costs and £3.75 a week per fuel is deducted from your benefits before you receive them. Fuel Direct is most suitable for people who struggle to manage their money and have large debts. You should speak to your supplier who can calculate the cost of this. If you are on Fuel Direct you are locked out of any cheaper tariffs your supplier has on offer.
Struggling with paying for ongoing consumption
If the cost of paying for your ongoing energy use is too high and preventing you from repaying your debt, there’s a couple of things you could look at doing.
Saving energy around the home
Your energy cost is linked to how much energy you use. If you’re using too much, you should try and find some ways to save energy around the home. You could try:
- Using your heating controls more efficiently – reducing the temperature in your home by just 1 degree can save around £85 a year. Make sure to use your programmer and thermostatic radiator valves correctly too.
- Switch off from standby – turning any unused appliances off at the wall can save around £30 a year.
- Have shorter showers – if each person in your house was in the shower for 1 minute less per day you could save around £10 per year per person.
- Cook more efficiently – use a microwave or slow cooker whenever you can and batch cook if possible too.
Switch to a cheaper tariff
If you are in debt with your supplier, they are unlikely to let you move to a different company until this is repaid. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a cheaper deal. You should speak to your supplier to see if they can reduce your costs by offering a cheaper tariff. Some suppliers offer comparison sites exclusive deals for people who sign up through the website, these are available for existing customers too. For advice on switching suppliers check out Energy Advisor Julian’s advice video on switching suppliers here.
Unable to afford debt repayments?
If you are unable to afford debt repayments for any reason you may need to get further support. If you are unable to make an agreement with your supplier, ask if they can put any debt recovery on hold while you get further advice and support.
There are lots of different organisations out there who can assist with debt and money advice. We recommend contacting Citizens Advice & Rights Fife for a benefit check, budgeting advice and support to manage your debts. You can get in touch with Citizen’s Advice & Right’s Fife by:
Calling the debt advice line on – 0345 1400 094
Grants to clear debt
Finally, some suppliers have grants available to help customers clear some or all of their outstanding debt balance. You should speak to your supplier to see if this is an option. Not all suppliers have grants available. Some are detailed below.
The British Gas Energy Trust can help customers of any supplier clear debt.
The Scottish Power Hardship Fund can help existing Scottish Power customers struggling to pay their debt.
SSE / Scottish Hydro customers may be able to apply for the Priority Assistance Fund in the winter. You should speak to SSE to see if this is available.
Funds for other suppliers can be found here – https://www.lets-talk.online/Home/AllSchemes
Support from Cosy Kingdom
Remember, Cosy Kingdom is here to help. If you are in debt with your energy supplier and not sure where to begin, or need a bit of support to speak to your supplier, our energy advisors are always happy to help.
Due to COVID-19, we’re not currently offering home advice visits but we can support you by telephone.
Our energy advisors can be contacted by:
Calling 01592 807930
Texting COSY then YOUR NAME to 88440
Through our website