Despite the government’s recent announcement that energy bills will be capped at £3,000 annually to the end of March 2024. Many of us could still be struggling with that upsurge in costs so what can you do if they’re just unmanageable? Check out our top ten tips on what to do if you’re struggling to afford your energy bills.

Speak to your supplier, they have to help

If you’re falling behind with your energy bills, and finding yourself struggling to pay, the best thing to do is contact your supplier as soon as possible. Under rules from regulator Ofgem, your supplier has to help you – usually by negotiating a payment plan that you can afford.
There are a range of options suppliers could offer if you’re struggling, including:

  • A full payment plan review
  • Affordable debt repayment plans
  • Payment breaks (though this won’t be right for everyone)
  • Payment reductions
  • More time to pay
  • Access to hardship funds

What help you can get is decided on a case-by-case basis, but importantly, repayment must be based on your ability to pay. So, get in touch with your supplier as soon as possible.

Hardship funds

Big energy firms have charitable trusts and funds that can help if you’re in debt and struggling to repay.
With these providers you’ll usually need to be a customer of the firm to apply, but British Gas offers help to non-customers as well. The application process for this help is fairly rigorous. You usually need to have spoken to a debt adviser before applying, complete a full income and expenditure budget sheet, provide proof of your income, give details on how your arrears have built up, and say how the grant will help you.
Exact eligibility requirements vary – some say you need to be in receipt of certain benefits for example – but those with the greatest need are prioritised on a case-by-case basis. It can take several weeks to process your claim and funds are limited, so act now.

£400 towards energy bills this winter

One of the measures announced back in May as part of the Government’s ‘cost of living support’ package, and further supported by by the government, was that all households in England, Scotland and Wales will get a £400 energy grant. All households with a domestic electricity meter will get it.
For most, the grant will be automatic, paid by your supplier between October 2022 and March 2023. However, those on non-smart prepayment meters will have to take action to get the money. It’ll come as six separate payments – £66 in October and November, then £67 for the remaining four months. How it’s paid depends on how you pay for your energy:

  • Monthly direct debit customers. You’ll get the grant automatically, as a deduction on your monthly payment, or as a refund into your bank account shortly after your direct debit payment is taken each month. British Gas, EDF and Ovo/SSE have all confirmed they’ll issue refunds as opposed to reducing your monthly payment, while Bulb and Shell Energy say they will reduce monthly payments.
  • Standard credit customers. This includes those who pay by cash, card or cheque after receiving a monthly or quarterly bill. You’ll get the payment automatically – in the first week of each month between October 2022 and March 2023. It’ll be added as credit to your account, so you should see this added to your bills over this period.
  • Smart prepayment customers. You’ll get the grant automatically as credit applied directly to your meter in the first week of each month.
  • Traditional prepayment customers. For these customers, the grant ISN’T automatic – you have to redeem it to get it. You’ll need to ensure your supplier has up-to-date contact details for you as your money will be sent as six separate vouchers via text, email or post – which you’ll need to redeem by topping up your electricity meter as normal in a shop or post office.

Crucially, the Government has said you’ll have three months to redeem each voucher – and if you lose them or they expire, they can only be reissued up until 31 March 2023. So, you could miss out if you don’t act to redeem all of them in time.
You won’t get this if you’re in Northern Ireland, but the Government has said it will deliver equivalent support.

Over 66? You’ll get up to £600 to help with energy bills this Winter

Every UK household with someone over state pension age (aged 66 or above) between 19 and 25 September 2022 is entitled to help towards their energy costs under the Government’s Winter Fuel Payment scheme, which is usually between £100 and £300.
But this year, the cost-of-living support package includes a one-off £300 top-up to the winter fuel payment, so you could get up to £600. It’ll be paid automatically in November or December.

Certain disability benefits mean you could be eligible for further support

About six million people across the UK on certain disability benefits will receive a one-off payment of £150 in September. This will be paid straight into the account you currently receive your benefits into and is designed to help towards the cost of specialist equipment and food, and increased transport costs.
To qualify, you must be receiving, or have begun an eventually successful claim as of 25 May 2022 for, one of the following benefits:

  • Armed forces independence payment
  • Attendance allowance
  • Constant attendance allowance
  • Disability living allowance
  • Personal independence payment
  • Scottish disability benefits
  • War pensioners’ mobility supplement

The Government says these payments will not count towards the benefit cap, and will not have any impact on existing benefits. You can also still qualify for the £150 payment if you’ve swapped disability benefits for mobility aids under the Motability Scheme – though details on how this will work in practice have yet to be confirmed.

Up to 60 days respite from debts with the ‘breathing space’ scheme

The breathing space scheme, officially known as the Debt Respite Scheme, is a Government scheme that can relieve some of the pressures and stress of being in debt.
If you pass eligibility, your creditors are informed and must stop collection or enforcement activity, and won’t be able to add interest or fees to your debt for up to 60 days.

Debt charity StepChange has full info on eligibility, and can take you through the application process.

Insulation and boiler grants could help too

Energy efficiency can seriously cut bills, and there are wads of freebies on offer from energy providers from firms under the Energy Company Obligation scheme. It’s all part of their efficiency obligations to people in certain groups.
If you’re on certain benefits, you could get free insulation or a grant to replace an old boiler. Here are some possible savings illustrations:

  • Boiler replacement or repair. Heating accounts for about 55% of what you spend in a year on energy bills. Depending on your boiler’s age, a shiny new efficient one could save you up to £315/year.
  • Cavity wall insulation. Most homes built since 1920 have a gap between internal and external walls. Filling the cavity with insulating mineral wool and foam means cold airs kept out, and warm air stays in, which can save an average three-bedroom home up to £305/year.
  • Loft insulation. Up to a quarter of your home’s heat escapes via the roof, but you can solve this by laying mineral wool under the rafters, saving up to £250/year.

Only pay for what you use!

Don’t rely on your energy provider’s estimate, as these are often way out. If they’re underbilling, you’ll have a big whack to pay when your supplier receives your actual meter reading. If they’re overbilling, then they’ve unfairly got your cash.
If your direct debit is way off kilter, call up and ask for it to be changed. You have a range of rights to ensure its correct.
Smart meters can help stop this as they send meter readings automatically to your supplier, so you only pay for what you use.

Use less. Simple, but effective. Cut down use where you can.

Most can’t save any other way, so using less can really pay off and is simple to do. The new government cap will be a cap on standing charges and unit rates, so use less you pay less, use more you pay more. There is not a total cap on what you pay, the typical rate is just a figure for illustration.
So, turn down the thermostat and wear jumpers, turn lights off when you leave a room, take shorter showers, use energy saving light bulbs and don’t leave electrical goods on standby.

While you can be disconnected, it’s very rare and there are strict rules for suppliers

There are very strict rules for disconnection and suppliers very rarely disconnect people due to debt.
Firms must take all reasonable steps to avoid disconnecting an energy supply for debt, and it should always be a last resort. Suppliers cannot disconnect you if you:

  • Owe a debt to a previous supplier
  • Are bankrupt and the energy debt is for before you were bankrupt
  • Owe a debt for a service or appliance from a supplier, and not for your gas or electricity usage.
  • What’s more, if it’s during winter (between October and March), you can’t be disconnected if you have reached state pension age and live on your own, or live with children under the age of 18.
  • Most suppliers have also voluntarily agreed to never disconnect you at any time of year if you have children under the age of six, are disabled, have long-term health problems or have severe financial problems. They also won’t disconnect you during winter if you have children under the age of 16.

Related News