What to do if you're struggling to pay your energy bills

What to do if you're struggling to pay your energy bills 

The energy market is in crisis. Energy prices are at all-time highs, there are no cheap deals to switch to and the energy price cap has just risen by a massive 54%. This will leave many facing the stark choice of choosing between heating and eating. While we're pushing the Government to do more to help mitigate rocketing prices, at the moment it's not doing enough. So in this guide we take you through all the help and support available right now if you're struggling. 

Should you stick or fix?
This guide is all about finding the right support if you're worried about being able to afford your energy bills. For help deciding whether you should fix or stay on a standard tariff, see Martin's Is now the time to fix? video.

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  1. Talk to your supplier as early as possible – they have to help if you're struggling

    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.

    So don't panic – your supply won't be cut off. Due to ongoing additional support measures put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, disconnections of standard credit meters have been suspended.

    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 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.

  2. On prepay and struggling to pay? Your supplier must help as well

    If you prepay for your energy, and you find yourself struggling to top up and facing self-disconnection, there's also plenty of help available from your supplier – so do contact it as soon as you start to get in trouble. Here's what they will do:

    • All suppliers offer small amounts of emergency credit. You'll usually get £5 of emergency credit on your gas and electricity meter (£5 on each meter) that you can access through your meter. The option to use it usually becomes available when you've little money left on your meter (usually about less than 50p for electricity, or £2 for gas).

      How you access it depends on your meter, either by entering the card or clicking a button when the option pops up – your supplier will be able tell you how it works for your meter. You will need to pay this back when next you top up.

    • Friendly credit means you can't be cut off in certain times if your meter runs out. Friendly credit is there to protect you if you start running out of credit when the shops are closed. It means you won't be cut off, and can keep using gas and electricity if you run out of credit during evenings, weekends and bank holidays.

      Times can vary slightly by supplier and season, but generally, you won't be cut off between about 6pm and 9am Monday to Saturday, all day Sunday, and on bank holidays. You'll need to pay back anything you've used during this time the next time you top up.

    • Additional support credit is available to some if you can't afford to top up. If you can't afford to top up and you're facing self-disconnection through being unable to keep enough money on the meter, you may be able to get additional support credit (or extra support credit).
      What you can get, how this works and if you're eligible will depend on your supplier, so speak to it as soon as possible.

      In general, additional support credit is usually for those in vulnerable situations (such as those of state pension age, or with a disability or long-term medical condition). It's also up to the supplier to assess how much additional credit you'll get and to work with you to come up with a repayment plan, based on your ability to pay.

      But even if you're not in a vulnerable situation, your supplier could still help if you're unable to top up. It may still be able to offer support credit, or can review any debts you may be paying off through your meter, or give you access to hardship funds. It's all done on a case-by-case bases, so do get in touch with your supplier as soon as possible.

    What's more, regulator Ofgem has strengthened protections for prepayment customers, requiring suppliers to proactively identify and contact customers that have self-disconnected due to being unable to afford to top up. This includes support for repaying any outstanding standing charges.

  3. Most energy suppliers offer hardship funds if you're in debt

    All the big energy firms have charitable trusts and funds that can help if you're in debt and struggling to repay. They offer schemes and grants to help with your energy costs, to replace faulty or old boilers, and to make your home more energy-efficient.

    Help is available from the following firms: British Gas Energy Trust / EDF Energy Customer Support Fund / E.on Energy Fund / E.on Next Energy FundOvo Energy Fund / Octo Assist FundScottish Power Hardship Fund.

    However, be aware you'll usually need to be a customer of the firm to apply, and the application process for help with energy debt is fairly rigorous (a few charities may be able to help with the process if you're struggling). Firstly, you need to have spoken to a debt adviser before applying. You'll need to complete a full income and expenditure budget sheet. You'll also need to provide proof of your income, plus give details on how your arrears have built up – for example, due to illness or redundancy – and say how the grant will help you. It can take several weeks to process your claim.

    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.

  4. Households to get up £350 help this year to help with rising energy prices

    Households in England, Wales and Scotland are to get up to £350 of Government support to soften the blow of rocketing energy prices. This includes: 

    • A £200 rebate loan in October to all households. You'll get an automatic £200 discount on your bills, regardless of what tariff you're on. And from April 2023 you'll have a £40/year levy added to bills to effectively repay the discount. For full info, see Martin's video explainer.

    • A £150 council tax rebate in April to all households in England, Scotland and Wales for those in bands A to D. How it works exactly depends on where you live – see our news stories for full info on the schemes in EnglandScotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland? It will receive a total of £100 million in funding to be able to put its own scheme in place, but we don't yet know exactly what it'll do with it though.
    • A £144 million discretionary fund for councils aimed at those on low incomes who don't qualify for help due to their council tax band. This is to help those on low incomes who don't qualify for the £150 support above because, for example, they're exempt from council tax. See discretionary fund info.

    We've full info on all the new measures in our Chancellor unveils £350 in support for households news story for more. 

  5. Check if you can get £150 towards energy bills each winter with the warm home discount

    The Warm Home Discount scheme requires suppliers with more than 50,000 customers to help vulnerable people in the UK pay for their energy over the winter. 

    If you've a standard credit meter, the money isn't paid to you – it's a £150 rebate applied to your electricity or gas bill between October and March. If you're on a prepay meter, you'll usually be sent a top-up voucher. 

    Following a recent shake-up of the Warm Home Discount, the money is paid automatically – previously, some had to apply to get it. You should get it if you qualify under the following criteria:

    • If you get pension credit, you should get it automatically. If you or your partner receive the 'guarantee credit' element of pension credit, and your name (or your partner's) is on your energy bill, you should be eligible for the discount under what's known as 'core group 1'. 

      Provided your energy supplier is part of the scheme (see the full list below), you should receive a letter (usually sent between October and December) confirming when the £150 will be deducted from your electricity bill. The letter may also ask you to contact the Warm Home Discount helpline to confirm your details. The helpline can also be used if you need assistance, or if you've not received your letter. Call 0800 731 0214. 
    • On certain benefits? You should get the discount automatically – if you're deemed to have 'high energy costs'. If you don't qualify for the above, you may still get the discount automatically if you're in receipt of certain benefits (such as Universal Credit and Income support) and your home has 'high energy costs' (see full eligibility criteria below), under what's known as 'core group 2'.

      If you're eligible, and providing your supplier is part of the scheme, you should receive a letter confirming when the £150 will deducted from your bill. The Government has also said it is looking into providing an online tool to allow people to check their eligibility. 
  6. If there's someone aged 66 or older in the home, you could get up to £300 with the winter fuel payment

    Every household with someone born on or before 26 September 1955 is entitled to help towards their winter energy costs. Under the Government's winter fuel payment scheme, provided you lived in the UK for at lease one day between 20 and 26 September 2021, then regardless of income, you can grab a one-off, tax-free winter fuel payment of between £100 and £300.

    It should have been paid automatically by the end of December. If not, check full eligibility info in winter fuel payment help.

  7. Older people and those on certain benefits could get £25 during freezing weather

    Under the cold weather payment scheme, older people and those on certain benefits can get a grant to help cover costs when temperatures hit zero degrees or below in their area.

    It applies if the average temperature is – or is forecast to be – 0°C or below for seven days in a row between 1 November and 31 March. You get £25 for each seven-day period. It's usually automatic if you get pension credit, or get other benefits including some universal credit recipients and some who get support for mortgage interest. See our full Cold weather payment guide for more info.

  8. Help for vulnerable households this winter from your local council

    Under the Household Support Fund, local councils in England have access to a pool of £500 million in funding to help those most in need. The cash is available to local councils to spend between April and September 2022, and is aimed at supporting the most vulnerable with essentials during the UK's ongoing recovery from the pandemic.

    The fund is aimed at providing small grants to meet daily needs, such as energy bills, as well as other utilities, housing costs, food and other essentials.

    Eligibility varies, as it's up to the local council to decide, but generally the grant is for vulnerable households, and those in most need of support. To find out what your council offers, whether you might be eligible for support and to apply, contact your local council as soon as you can, as funding could run out at any time.

  9. Where to go for free one-on-one energy and debt advice

    If you are still struggling after speaking to your energy supplier, there are a number of organisations and charities that can provide one-on-one support and advice. We've focused on the main nationwide charities and organisations that offer support, but there could be more local support offered by regional charities and your local authority.

    All of the organisations below can help with common energy issues and problems, including info on the options available if you're struggling to pay, the Government grants and schemes available to you, help accessing hardship funds and general ways to reduce your energy use. Yet some do specialise in certain areas.

    Important: Bear in mind that these organisations are very busy right now, and have limited resources – Citizens Advice, for example, says it's seen a 40% uplift year-on-year in people needing support due to energy debt issues. So please be patient and polite.

    Energy help and grant specialists

    The charities below offer help and advice on most energy bill problems if you're struggling to pay, including help with finding Government grants and schemes you might be eligible for, help applying for support through energy supplier's charitable trusts, and help with complaints.

    • Home Energy Scotland. A non-profit organisation backed by the Scottish Government that offers free, practical advice and info on energy in Scotland. You can call it on 0808 196 8660 or contact it online.

      It says as well as offering impartial advice on energy saving and reducing bills, it'll check your eligibility for funding options including Scottish Government grants and interest-free loans.

    • National Energy Action (NEA)The NEA is a national fuel poverty and energy efficiency charity that offers a free support service known as WASH (Warm and Safe Homes). It provides energy advice to households in England and Wales. You can contact it on 0800 304 7159, or fill in an online form.

      It offers advice on income maximisation, energy billing, fuel debt, energy efficiency and trust fund applications.

      Due to the current crisis, the charity is very busy, which is why MSE founder Martin Lewis has announced he will fund £100,000 for it to set up a webchat service to help more people. It hopes this will be ready by April.

    • NI Energy AdviceThis service offers impartial energy advice for those in Northern Ireland.

      You can contact it via its online form or by calling 0800 111 4455.

    Wider debt and energy help

    While the organisations below offer help for all types of energy problems, their main aim is helping with budgeting and debt. So if you find yourself in energy arrears, or your problems stretch beyond energy, these might be best.

    • Citizens Advice. If you're in England or Wales, you can speak to a trained adviser on 0808 223 1133 or fill in online form and they'll respond by email. If you're in Scotland, you'll need to speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

      It says it can help with most energy problems and it can also refer you to its extra help unit – which can provide dedicated support to people in vulnerable situations to resolve problems with energy firms.

    • StepChange. A debt charity that provides free debt advice to people in England, Scotland and Wales. You can contact it on 0800 138 1111 or get online debt advice.

      It can work with you to develop a personalised plan to make repayments, set up and manage a debt management plan for you, or even help with ways to write off debts if you're unable to pay.

    • MoneyHelperSponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions, it provides free, impartial and confidential money guidance to anyone in the UK. You can contact it on 0800 138 7777, or via webchat, email or WhatsApp.

      As well as personalised advice and guidance on money issues, including energy bills and how to prioritise debt, it can help you find a free and confidential debt adviser in your area.

    • National Debt Line. A debt charity that gives free independent advice to people in England, Scotland and Wales. You can talk to via webchat or by calling 0808 808 4000.

      It has a free budget tool and can help you work out a debt management plan. 

    Specialist help for older people

    While older people can use the services above, Age UK can offer more specialised support. 

    • Age UK. A leading charity for helping older people, it says it can help any older person or those entitled to claim benefits. You can contact it on 0800 169 6565 (0800 124 4222 in Scotland), or via webchat and email.

      Age UK is urging older people to contact it before turning their heating off or down. It says it can check if people are receiving all the support available to them, point people towards more help for heating their home, and provide guidance on billing, meters and complaints.

    Specialist energy support for disabled people

    If you have a disability, as well as the organisations above, you can also get additional help from Scope.

    • ScopeA disability equality charity, it offers free energy advice to disabled people in England and Wales. You can contact it on 0808 801 0828 or email it.

      Through its disability energy support scheme, it can offer advice on a range of issues, including managing debt, efficiency, accessing benefits, grants and trusts, access to fuel vouchers, understanding bills and support with registering for the Priority Services Register.

    • Disability Information Scotland. If you live in Scotland, Disability Information Scotland can provide similar help. You can contact it on 0300 323 9961 or email it.

    For more generalised help if you're struggling with debt, see our full Debt help guide.

    Community support groups

    For a lot of people, a place to talk to others in similar situations and share ideas is really important, which is why community support groups on social media are thriving. While we can't vouch for every piece of information, these groups often have knowledgeable users – some with industry experience – sharing information, so can be very useful.

  10. You could get 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.

  11. You can pay energy bills direct from your benefits to help with budgeting

    If you're struggling to pay for your energy and you're on certain benefits, you may be able pay directly from your benefit payments instead under a Government scheme known as Fuel Direct (also known as 'third party deductions'). The scheme lets you arrange to have a small, fixed amount deducted directly from your benefit payments each week to go towards paying off energy debt.

    To use the scheme, you need to contact your Jobcentre (or Pension Centre if you are claiming pension credit) and give them details of your supplier and what you owe. Your Jobcentre or Pension Centre will then get in contact with your provider.

    How much will be dedicated depends on which benefit scheme the payment is deducted from:

    • If you claim universal credit. A fixed rate of 5% of your entitlement can be deducted and paid directly to your supplier for gas and electricity (and water).

    • For other benefits. A set amount of £3.70 will be directly deducted each week to pay off the debt you owe, plus an additional amount to cover your ongoing usage. For example, if you use £5 of energy per week, a total of £8.70 will be deducted directly from your benefits.

      Be aware though, if the set amount to cover your debt and the additional sum for your ongoing usage comes to less than 25% of your total benefits, the payment to your supplier can be set up without your permission. So be sure before you apply. You can use the Fuel Direct scheme with income-based jobseeker's allowance, employment and support allowance, income support and pension credit.
  12. In Northern Ireland, you could get a £200 payment under the Energy Payment Support Scheme

    In January 2022, the Northern Ireland Communities Minister announced a new Energy Payment Support Scheme, which will provide a one-off, £200 payment to about 280,000 people in receipt of certain benefits. The payment will be made automatically into the same account your benefits are paid – there's no specified payment date though, the Government only says it will be paid as soon as practically possible.

    You'll be eligible for the payment if, during the qualifying week from 13 December to 19 December 2021, you were resident in Northern Ireland and in receipt of one or more of the following:

    • Pension credit
    • Universal credit
    • Income-related employment and support allowance
    • Income-based jobseekers allowance
    • Income support
  13. In Wales, you could get £100 via the Winter Fuel Support Scheme

    In November 2021, the Welsh Government announced a £100 one-off payment for those struggling to pay bills who meet certain criteria. The Winter Fuel Support Scheme, which could help about 350,000 people, will be paid from January 2022 until the end of March 2022.

    You need to apply for this by 18 February 2022. You're eligible for the payment if, between 1 December 2021 and 31 January 2022, you were receiving one of the following benefits:

    • Income support
    • Income-based jobseekers allowance
    • Income-related employment and support allowance
    • Universal credit
    • Working tax credits
  14. Check if you can get free insulation or boiler grants to make your home more energy efficient

    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. The Free insulation & boilers guide has more on what's available, but below there is a taster of what you can get and what it'll save you:

    • 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 air's 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.

    For more advice on energy efficiency and help to find any schemes you are eligible for, try the Government's Simple Energy Advice website, the Energy Saving Trust or Home Energy Scotland.

  15. See if you're eligible to join the Priority Services Register

    The Priority Services Register is a free support service operated by energy suppliers and network operators (the firms that own the pipes and wires). It offers a range of service to help people in vulnerable situations (see full eligibility below).

    The help you can get includes:

    • Advance notice of planned power cuts. If you rely on energy supply for medical reasons, your network operator will inform you of planned power cuts.

    • Priority support in an emergency. Network operators can provide you with heating and cooking facilities during unexpected power cuts.

    • Identification and password scheme. To reassure you that energy and network employees are genuine, they can arrange things like a particular password or picture card if they need to visit you.

    • Nominee schemes. You can nominate someone to receive communications and bills from your supplier.

    • Help with prepayment meter access. For example, suppliers could move your meter if you can access it easily to top up.

    • Regular meter reading services. If you can't easily read the meter yourself, or nobody else can.

    • Accessible information. For example, account info and bills in large print or Braille.

    To get on the register, you'll need to contact your supplier and ask to be placed on it. You only need to contact your supplier, as you can ask them to pass on your details to the network operator to be added to their register as well.

    If you have different suppliers for gas and electricity, contact both providers and ask to be registered, and if you switch, don't forget to ask your new supplier about it.

    • The full eligibility criteria for the Proirity Services Register

      You are eligible for the Priority Services Register if one of the following applies to you:

      • You've reached your state pension age
      • You are disabled or have a long-term medical condition
      • You are recovering from an injury
      • You have a hearing or sight condition
      • You have a mental health condition
      • You are pregnant or have children under five
      • You have extra communication needs (such as 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.

  16. Make sure you only pay for the energy you use – do regular meter readings

    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 it's correct. See the Energy direct debits guide for full help.

    Smart meters can help stop this as they send meter readings automatically to your supplier, so you only pay for what you use. See the Smart meters guide for more.

  17. Pay by monthly direct debit if you can – it can be £90+/year cheaper

    Paying by monthly direct debit can cut bills by about £90 each year on average, as companies are sure you won't default and they earn interest on any overpayments. So if you can do this, go for it.

    Even if you're on a price-capped tariff, it's worth opting to pay by direct debit, as the cap is set lower for those that pay this way, compared to all other payment methods – see our What is the energy price cap? guide for full info.

    See the Energy direct debits guide for full help.

  18. Using less energy is a simple way to save on bills

    Most can't save by switching right now, so using less can really pay off and is simple to do. 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.

    For more info, see our top Energy saving tips, or read the MSE Forum's Energy Saving Hunt.

  19. Is it really cheaper to leave the heating on all day? We've busted some of the common energy saving myths

    According to experts at the Energy Saving Trust, the idea it's cheaper to leave the heating on low all day is a myth. They're clear that having the heating on only when you need it is, in the long run, the best way to save energy and therefore money. (A timer's best, as your thermostat turns your heating on and off to keep your home at the temperature you set.)

    For full info and answers to 17 other energy saving myths, see our full Energy mythbusting guide.

  20. Do a moneymaker – it could offset the energy hikes

    Check your bills NOW as you could save £100s on broadband, mobiles, fuel, food and more by systematically working through your finances to ensure you've the best deal on everything.

    This could really help mitigate the pain of the energy price hikes, with many people saving £1,000s over the year. We've full help in our Money makeover guide.

  21. If your supplier isn't helping, how to complain

    If you are struggling with your bills and you find your provider won't help, or you experience any of the other common problems faced by energy customers, such as incorrect bills, switching issues, direct debits being too high, refund delays and more, then complain.

    Remember to always try calling your provider to sort the issue first, but if not then you can use free complaints tool Resolver. The tool helps you manage your complaint, and if the company doesn't play ball, it also helps you escalate your complaint to the free Energy Ombudsman

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