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

The Price Cap is predicted to fall by 15% on 1 April, yet energy bills continue to be staggeringly high, leaving many people struggling. In this guide we walk you step-by-step through the support that's out there.

Step 1: If you're struggling, talk to your supplier ASAP – it HAS to help

New research from Citizens Advice reveals 5.3 million people are in debt to their energy supplier. 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.

There are new rules for forced installations of prepayment meters

From November 2023, there is a new code in place for forced prepayment meters, which all suppliers must abide by. The code, which was originally voluntary, is now part of suppliers' licence conditions, making them legally enforceable. The new rules include:

  • A ban on forcibly installing meters for certain vulnerable customers. For households considered 'high risk', including those aged 75 or over with no support in their home, households where there is a child under two, households that need a continuous energy supply for health reasons, or those who are unable to top up meters due to a physical or mental disability.

  • Vulnerability and affordability assessments before force-fitting a prepayment meter for certain homes. For households considered 'medium risk', including households with children under five years old, and those that are temporarily considered vulnerable due to being pregnant or bereaved.

    If the assessment finds that you're likely to run out of credit ("self-disconnect") as a result of being switched to prepay, the firm shouldn't proceed.

  • The need for 'welfare visits' to homes before installing prepayment meters. This includes if you're already on a smart credit meter and your supplier wants to switch this over to prepayment mode remotely, as well as switching out traditional meters for prepayment meters.

  • Firms should make at least 10 attempts to contact you before a prepayment meter is installed. Firms must attempt to make contact over three months and at various times of day and on different days of the week, to ensure you've had an opportunity to be home.

  • The wearing of body cameras during all welfare visits and when installing your prepayment meter. This means footage can be audited to ensure firms are sticking to the rules, and to help with any disputes and complaints.

  • Providing alternative repayment options to help you clear your debt before suppliers fit a prepayment meter.

  • Providing a £30 top-up credit to your meter if your supplier decides to install a prepayment meter. This is to remove the risk of households being left with no supply, though it will have to be repaid.

When CAN suppliers force you to get a prepayment meter?

Force-fitting prepayment meters should only be the last resort to avoid disconnecting you, and your supplier should have explored all other options to recover the debt first. 

Once a supplier has exhausted all options to recover the debt, and has followed the new processes above, it can remotely switch you to a smart prepay meter, if you already have a smart meter. If you don't have a smart meter, your supplier will need to get a court warrant to force you to get a prepay meter.

The energy regulator, Ofgem has confirmed that EDF, Octopus and Scottish Power have now met the necessary conditions to restart involuntary prepayment meter installations.  

  • Suppliers can't force-fit a prepay meter if you're considered a 'high risk' customer

    People considered 'high risk' might include those who are:

    • Over 75 and there is no other support in the home. This means if someone under 75 also lives in the household, they will only be considered vulnerable if they are 'high risk'.

    • In need of a continuous supply of energy for health reasons. This includes dependency on ventilators, refrigerated medication or people with severe health issues such as, emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

    • Suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular or respiratory disease, organ failure, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or sickle cell disease.

    • Incapable of topping up the meter due to a physical or mental disability.

    • Households with children aged under two years old.
  • Suppliers must assess 'medium risk' customers on a case-by-case basis

    Energy firms will need to complete a vulnerability and affordability assessment to fit prepayment meters into homes where there are:

    • Children under five (households with children under two are considered part of a 'high risk' household)
    • People living with other serious health conditions (not covered in the 'high risk' category), such as neurological diseases, respiratory conditions and mobility-limiting conditions, and serious mental or developmental health conditions
    • People made temporarily vulnerable by pregnancy or bereavement

    If the assessment finds that you're likely to run out of credit ("self-disconnect") as a result of being switched to prepay, the firm shouldn't proceed.

  • Your supplier must follow the correct process to put you on prepay

    • Having a valid reason for the switch. This can include recovering a debt you may owe.

    • Communicating clearly. Your supplier should tell you if it plans to put you on prepay – and make at least 10 attempts to contact you before a prepayment meter is installed. It must give its reasons for the decision and outline any other options you may have. 

    • Providing at least seven working days' notice. If you're on a smart meter, you shouldn't find it being switched into prepay mode out of the blue.

    • Taking into account whether you're vulnerable. If so, and your vulnerability means it would be unsafe or impractical for you to be on prepay, the switch shouldn't go ahead. You'll be considered vulnerable if you fit into the 'high risk' or 'medium risk' categories above.

    • Getting a court warrant (in some cases). This is only relevant where you have non-smart meters (so the supplier needs to physically install new meters) and you've refused to communicate with your supplier about a repayment plan.
  • Unsafe or unfair switch? How to complain

    If your supplier hasn't followed the correct process, or has put you on prepay when it shouldn't have, you should raise a formal complaint. You can do this by contacting your provider directly, or by using the free Resolver complaints tool (which covers most suppliers).

    If you've already tried contacting the firm and it's been more than eight weeks since you lodged your formal complaint (or you've received a deadlock letter), you can then take it to the free Energy Ombudsman, an independent body that handles disputes between consumers and energy firms.

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 help available from your supplier – so do contact it as soon as you start to get in trouble.

Citizens Advice estimates that 1.7 million people in Britain ran out of credit on their prepayment meter last year, and 800,000 people went more than 24 hours without gas and electricity, as they couldn't afford to top up. So make sure you are getting all the support you are entitled to.

Here's what energy firms will do:

  • All suppliers offer small amounts of emergency credit. You'll usually get £5 of emergency credit on your gas and electricity meter (though some have increased this in response to the energy crisis), which 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 inserting your key/card or clicking a button when the option pops up – your supplier will be able to tell you how it works for your meter. You will need to pay this back when you next top up.

  • 'Friendly credit' means you can't be cut off at 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 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 basis, 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.

Get on the Priority Services Register if you're vulnerable

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 services to help people in vulnerable situations, for example, if you've reached state pension age, or you have a long-term medical condition, or have children under five (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 checks such as 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't 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.

A dedicated website has been launched to make it easier to be added to the Priority Services Register. You no longer need to ask your supplier to do this for you. There are several ways you can register, including an online form, by email or by calling 0800 169 9970, as well as messaging via WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter.

  • The full eligibility criteria for the Priority Services Register

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

    • You've reached 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.

Step 2: Check if you qualify for special short-lived government support

In this section we'll look at the specific, short-lived cost-of-living support that's being made available by the Government.

It's worth having a good rummage around here, as in some cases the help you can access will depend on your specific circumstances. Exactly what you can get depends on factors including whether you're on certain benefits or whether you're a pensioner. Check what you could benefit from, including:

Households on certain means-tested benefits will get £900 in 2023/24 – the final instalment will be paid by Thursday 22 February

Over eight million households in the UK on means-tested benefits will get a £900 cost of living payment in 2023/24 (up from £650 in 2022). It'll be paid in three instalments, which most should have now received:

  • £301 – paid between 25 April and 17 May
  • £300 – paid between 31 October and 19 November 2023
  • £299 – to be paid between 6 and 22 February 2024

These payments are tax-free, will not count towards the benefit cap, and will not have any impact on existing benefits.

If you didn't receive the first or second payments, but think you're entitled, the Government has launched a webpage to report missing payments. If you haven't received the final payment by 22 February, you'll be able to report it as missing from 23 February.

Use our 10-minute benefits check to ensure you're receiving all the support you're entitled to, as up to seven-and-a-half million households are missing out on state help they're eligible for.

  • To qualify for the final payment, you needed to be claiming certain benefits

    To qualify for the final payment, you needed to be claiming one of the following benefits (or later found to be entitled to the benefit) between 13 November and 12 December 2023 (for Universal Credit, you need to have an assessment period that ended between those dates):

    • Child Tax Credit
    • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
    • Income-related employment and support allowance
    • Income Support
    • Universal Credit
    • Working Tax Credit
    • Pension Credit (see below)

    For all the benefits listed above, even if you didn't receive this year's first or second cost of living payments, you may still be eligible for the final payment in February 2024.

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 to 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 taken 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 £4.25 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 a week, a total of £9.25 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.

Millions of pensioners got up to £600 with the winter fuel payment this winter (including a £300 top-up)

UK pensioner households are entitled to help towards their energy costs under the Government's Winter Fuel Payment scheme. It's usually between £100 and £300 and is paid automatically to eligible pensioners or pensioner households.

In 2022 and 2023, the cost of living support package included a top-up to the winter fuel payment of £300 per household, so some got up to £600.

Every household with someone born on or before 24 September 1957 is entitled to help towards their winter energy costs, and if you live with someone that also qualifies, you'll both get the cash (either individually or as a household). It should be paid in November or December each year. How much you get depends on your circumstances: 

Winter fuel payments – how much could you get in 2023/24?

If between 18 and 24 September 2023 you: Born between 25 Sept 1943 and 24 Sept 1957 Born before 25 Sept 1943
Live alone (or none of the people you live with qualify) £500 £600
Live with someone under 80 who also qualifies £250 £350
Live with someone 80 or over who also qualifies

£250

£300
Live in a care home but won't receive Pension Credit, Income Support, jobseeker's allowance or income-related employment and support allowance £250 £300

Amounts include the 'pensioner cost of living payment', a £300 top-up available this winter.

If you've not got the winter fuel payment before and you don't claim one of the eligible benefits (for example, you only claim Housing Benefit, council tax reduction, Child Benefit or Universal Credit), or you've deferred your state pension since your last winter fuel payment, you'll need to claim it by 31 March. You can claim by post or by calling 0800 731 0160.

Help for vulnerable households from councils

Household Support Fund in England

Under the Household Support Fund, councils in England have access to a pool of £842 million in funding to help those most in need.

Local authorities can spend the cash until March 2024, to support the most vulnerable with essentials and the fund is aimed at providing small grants to meet daily needs, such as energy bills, as well as other utilities, housing and food costs.

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

The Home Heating Support Fund in Scotland

This Scottish Government initiative offers financial support to anyone who is struggling with their energy bills. You'll need to have had money or energy advice from an accredited agency to get funding (such as Money Advice Scotland).

If you've self-disconnected from your energy supply, you won't be able to apply to the fund until you're back on supply. In this case, you should reach out to your energy supplier or call energyadvice.scot on 0808 1968 660.

You can find out how to apply on the Home Heating Support Fund website. The fund is open until March 2024 or until all funds have been allocated.

Scottish Welfare Fund Crisis Grants

If you’re on a a low income or getting certain benefits, you may be able to apply for a Crisis Grant (part of the Scottish Welfare Fund) through your local council, to help with food or heating costs.

Discretionary Assistance Fund in Wales

The Welsh Government's Discretionary Assistance Fund offers the Emergency Assistance Payment to help pay for essential costs, such as food, gas, electricity, clothing or emergency travel, and the The Individual Assistance Payment to help you or someone you care to buy ‘white goods' or home furniture such as beds, sofas and chairs. 

You can check if you're eligible and how to apply through the Welsh Government website.

Step 3: Find out how energy firms and others may be able to help you

Here we'll talk you through the existing support that's out there from energy firms and other groups, including some of the main energy schemes that you can tap into for help. You'll find info on the following:

Energy suppliers offer help through 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 (see charities that can help with the process). 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.

Hardship grants offered by energy suppliers – and how to apply

Supplier scheme Key eligibility criteria How much you could get How to apply

Open to customers of ALL suppliers

British Gas Energy Trust 'Individuals and Families Fund'

British Gas Energy Trust
Individuals and Families Fund

- In or facing fuel poverty
- Can't have had a British Gas grant in the past two years
- You've received help from a money advice service

- See full info on the British Gas website

Up to £2,000 Via the British Gas website

Open to customers of the named suppliers ONLY

 

British Gas Energy Trust
The British Gas Energy Support Fund

- Have electric and/or gas debt between £250 and £2,000

- Can't have had a British Gas grant in the past 12 months

- You've received help from a money advice service

- See full info on the British Gas website

Up to £2,000 Via the British Gas website


EDF Energy
Customer Support Fund

- Experiencing hardship, or struggling to manage energy debt

- You've received help from a money advice service
- See full info on the EDF website

No set limit – depends on your circumstances Via the 'Let's Talk' web form (1)


E.on Next
Energy Fund

Also open to customers of:
Sainsbury's Energy
- Experiencing financial hardship and struggling to manage energy debt
- See full info on the E.on Next website
No set limit – depends on your circumstances Via the 'Let's Talk' web form (1)


Octopus Energy
Octo Assist Fund

Also open to customers of: Affect Energy, Co-operative Energy, Ebico Living, London Power, M&S Energy
- No specific eligibility criteria
- See full info on the Octopus website
No set limit – depends on your circumstances Via a Paylink account

TABLE_CELL_STYLE

Ovo Energy

Hardship Scheme 


Also open to customers of: Boost, SSE

- Experiencing hardship, or struggling to manage energy debt
- See more info on the Ovo website
Varies depending on need and funds available Call Ovo on 0330 303 5063 or apply via it's web form.


Scottish Power
Hardship Fund
- In receipt of: Income Support, jobseeker's allowance, Pension Credit, or employment and support allowance
- You need to contact a recognised debt advice agency first
- See full info on the Scottish Power website
Varies depending on need and funds available Via Scottish Power's web form or by phone on 0121 285 2595


Shell Energy

Helpfund
- No specific eligibility criteria
- See full info on the Shell Energy website
No set limit – depends on your circumstances Call Shell on 0330 094 5800


Utilita

Helping Hand Fund

- Have an old non-smart legacy meter
- Have an existing energy debt

- Can't have had a grant from the Helping Hand Fund in the last three years
- Live in England, Scotland or Wales

- See full info on Utilita's website

 

No set limit – depends on your circumstances Via Utilita's online application form


Utility Warehouse

Hardship Fund
- In fuel poverty, or about to go into energy debt or run out of prepay credit
- See full info on the Utility Warehouse website
Varies depending on need and funds available Call Utility Warehouse on 0333 777 3215

Last updated: 20 February 2024. (1) 'Let's Talk' is part of 'Charis', an organisation that helps support those in utility debt.

Some energy suppliers are providing additional help through winter support schemes

As well as hardship funds, some of the major energy suppliers are offering their own winter support packages to further help vulnerable households:

  • EDF has automatically credited eligible households' energy bills with £30 this winter. You should have got the £30 in December if you were an existing EDF customer and you received the warm home discount from EDF automatically during winter 2022/23 – see full info on who will get it.

  • E.on Next's 'Winter Affordability Support Scheme'. Some households can get a discount of up to 50% on energy bills until 31 March. It's available to certain E.on Next customers on low incomes, with medical issues or those that get the warm home discount, but full eligibility is complicated – so see full details on how the discount works and who can get the help.

  • Octopus Energy has relaunched its free electric blankets scheme for those most in need. The firm will be targeting certain vulnerable customers and offering them an electric blanket.

  • Ovo Energy is giving away free energy-saving products. Ovo's Winter Support Package is available to customers of Ovo Energy and Boost. We've asked Ovo for eligibility criteria, but it has yet to confirm this. We'll update this guide when we have more details.

  • Utilita is giving £150 to those who will miss out on the warm home discount. Utilita has identified and contacted customers who they believe are eligible for the discount but won’t receive it through the usual way. Successful applicants should have now received £75 in December 2023 and £75 in January 2024, either as bill credit on your smart meter, or a voucher if you have an old-fashioned legacy meter.

As we hear of more energy firm's winter support schemes, we'll update this guide.

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

The Warm Home Discount scheme is available to millions of households in the UK. It requires suppliers with more than 1,000 customers to help vulnerable people pay for their energy over 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 changes to how the warm home discount works, the scheme is now different in England and Wales from that in Scotland. If you live in England or Wales, you'll get the discount automatically if you meet the eligibility criteria. In Scotland, you'll only get it automatically if you receive the 'guarantee credit' element of Pension Credit.

You can find out full details about eligibility and how to apply in our Warm Home Discount guide.

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 in England and Wales 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.

Households in Scotland get £55 regardless of weather conditions

In 2022, the Scottish Government replaced the Cold Weather Payment scheme with the Winter Heating Payment scheme. Under this, eligible households will receive a flat £55.05 (2023/24) to help towards winter heating costs.

The payment will be made automatically between December and January each year, so you don't need to do anything to get one. You need to be receiving one of these benefits, during the qualifying week, which this year was 6 to 12 November 2023. Social Security Scotland will confirm by letter if you're due the £55.05 payment.

  • Full eligibility for the Cold Weather Payment and Low Income Winter Heating Assistance payment

    For both schemes, you need to be receiving one of the following:

    • Pension Credit. You'll usually get the payments if you do not live in a care home.
       
    • Income Support and income-based jobseeker's allowance. You'll be eligible if you have a disability or pensioner premium, a child who is disabled, get Child Tax Credits that include a disability or severe disability element, or you have a child under five living with you.

    • Income-related employment and support allowance. You'll be eligible if you have a severe or enhanced disability premium, a pensioner premium, a child who is disabled, if you get Child Tax Credits that include a disability or severe disability element, or you have a child under five living with you.

    • Universal Credit. You'll be eligible if you have a health condition or disability and have a 'limited capability for work', or you have a child under five living with you.

    • Support for mortgage interest. You may be eligible if you have a disability or pensioner premium, a child who is disabled, get Child Tax Credits that include a disability or severe disability element, or you have a child under five living with you.

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 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 Government also expanded the eligibility criteria for free insulation in 2023, meaning you don't necessarily need to be on benefits to take advantage of the scheme. Our Great British Insulation Scheme guide has more on what's available, but below there is a taster of what you can get and what it'll save you:

  • 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 £280/year.

  • Loft insulation. Up to a quarter of your home's heat escapes through the roof, but you can solve this by putting insulating mineral wool in the loft space, saving up to £270/year.

  • 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 £540/year.

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

Cost of living grants for veterans from the Royal British Legion

The Royal British Legion has launched a grant scheme for veterans and their families who are struggling to pay their energy bills. It's offering non-repayable emergency grants to those who have served, or are serving, in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force, as well as their families, dependants and carers.

To receive energy support, you must be in receipt of a state benefit. The Royal British Legion will fund up to half your monthly energy costs, up to a maximum of £200 a month. Other grants are available to those who don't receive any state benefits, but your income will be assessed when you apply.

In most cases, you won't be paid in cash. Instead, you'll get one or more of the following, depending on your situation:

  • Vouchers to top up your gas or electricity prepayment meter
  • A virtual credit card you can use to pay utility bills (restricted to this use)
  • Vouchers for food, clothing or household items
  • Replacement white goods

You can apply for a grant online or call the Royal British Legion on 0808 802 8080.

Use this free tool to find a place to keep warm

With energy prices extremely high, it's even more expensive just to keep warm when the temperature falls. Living in cold conditions can be dangerous and even deadly, with people with disabilities, elderly people, children, people from ethnic minorities, and low-income households among the most at risk.

We give tips on how to keep warm in our Heat the human guide, but if you're really struggling, local organisations and churches have opened their doors following efforts from councils, organisations and charities wanting to help. See Martin's blog post.

Warm Welcome has a dedicated site to help you find a space in your local community to keep warm. It details location, opening hours and facilities provided via the link below.

Find a warm space in your area

Step 4: Find out where to go for free one-on-one advice and wider debt help

There are a number of organisations and charities out there that can provide one-on-one support and advice. We've focused on the main ones that operate nationwide, but there could be more local support offered by regional charities and your local authority too.

All of the organisations below can help with common energy issues and problems, including providing info on your options if you're struggling to pay, the government grants and schemes available, 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 suppliers' charitable trusts, and help with complaints.

  • 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 ongoing crisis, the charity is very busy, which is why back in 2022, MSE founder Martin Lewis funded £100,000 for it to set up a webchat service to help more people, which launched its webchat service in April 2022.

  • 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 808 2282 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.

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

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

If you're struggling with more than just your energy bills

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 an online form and they'll respond by email. If you're in Scotland, you'll need to speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau. You can also get help from a local advice agency if you're in Northern Ireland.

    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 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.

  • MoneyHelper. Sponsored 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 it 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, it says it can help any older person or those entitled to claim benefits. You can contact it by phone or online, but the number depends on where you live: 

    - In England: 0800 678 1602
    - In Scotland: 0300 303 44 98
    - In Wales: 0300 303 44 98
    - In Northern Ireland: 0800 12 44 222

    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.

  • Scope. A 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.

  • Energy Support and Advice UK. This Facebook group, launched in 2020, is one of the most active, with over 100,000 members sharing advice and tips.

Step 5: Know your rights

It's crucial that you're aware of your rights at this difficult time, especially around some really serious issues such as having your energy supply cut off, and being able to get a breather from your debts. Find full info on:

You could get up to 60 days' respite from debts with the breathing space scheme

The Government's breathing space scheme – officially known as the Debt Respite Scheme – 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.

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 from 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 never to 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.

If your supplier isn't helping, put in an official complaint

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 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

There are new rules on when suppliers can force you to have a prepayment meter installed

Suppliers will sometimes use prepayment meters as a way of recovering debts – but only as a last resort. However, regulator Ofgem has introduced a new code of practice, designed to better protect customers and reduce the need for prepayment meters to be installed. We've more info on who can and can't have a forced prepayment meter installation and under what circumstances.

Step 6: Read our energy cost-cutting tips

There are small changes you can make that can have a huge impact on your energy use and how much you end up paying, which we go into here, as well as more ways to reduce other household bills, including:

Using less energy is a simple way to save on bills – if you've not already cut usage as much as possible

Most can't save any other way, so using less can really pay off and is simple to do (unless you're already using the minimum, in which case, read on).

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.

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 other energy-saving myths, see our full Energy mythbusting guide.

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 it's underbilling you, you'll have a big whack to pay when your supplier receives your actual meter reading. If it's overbilling, then it's 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 our 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 our Smart meters guide for more.

Pay by monthly direct debit if you can – it can be £100+/year cheaper

Paying by monthly direct debit can cut bills by about £130 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.

See our Energy direct debits guide for full help.

Do a money makeover – it could help 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.

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