MILLIONS of Brits face paying more for energy within weeks leaving many worried about bills.

Struggling households will pay on average nearly £700 more a year when the price cap goes up from April 1.

Andy Shaw helps people in debt at charity Stepchange


Andy Shaw helps people in debt at charity Stepchange

The majority of billpayers are now on a price-capped standard variable tariff for gas and electricity.

The price cap will rise from £1,277 to £1,971 and could increase further the next time it’s reviewed in October to as much as £3,000 because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The exact amount you’ll pay from next month will depend on your usage, and energy suppliers are notifying customers now of how much more they can expect to pay.

An estimated 8.5million households could be plunged into fuel poverty and Stepchange estimates that around one in four people it helps with debt have already fallen behind on their energy bill.

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With millions more expected to struggle because of upcoming bill hikes, we spoke to the charity’s expert Andy Shaw about what to do if you’re worried or falling behind – and the help you can get.

If you’re worried about paying bills, falling behind or are in debt, there are plenty of organisations where you can seek advice for free, including:

Speak to your supplier as early as possible

In the first instance it’s your energy supplier you need to ask for help – though many people are reluctant to do this.

“If you don’t let it know you’re having difficulty paying, then it’s not going to be able to do anything to help. They are not going to know that you need support,” says Andy.

“Speak to them as early as possible, let them know that you’re going to have difficulty paying.”

The exact help your supplier can offer will depend on your circumstances, and can range from grants and vouchers to repayment plans (see more below).

“All energy companies have an obligation to deal fairly with customers who are in financial difficulty or vulnerable for any other reason, for example health or age,” Andy says.

“As prices continue to rise and things become less affordable, the number of people who fall into that bracket is going to increase.”

What that fair treatment means in practical terms if you’re struggling to pay, is that your supplier needs to take into account your circumstances, rather than applying a blanket policy, Andy says.

For example, they can’t just tell everybody who has an overdue bill that they have exactly three months to pay back the amount they owe.

If you’re worried about speaking with your supplier, you can contact organisations like Stepchange and Citizens Advice who can help you ask for the right help or speak to your supplier on your behalf.

Before you contact your supplier you’ll need some things to hand.

Andy says: “It’s a good idea to have a budget prepared – something on paper listing your income and your outgoings.

“Whatever help route you’re going down, they’re going to want some information about your finances in order to judge what what support is right for you.”

You can use a free budget planner tool from the government’s Money Helper website to help you prepare.

It also worth checking that the new bill you’re sent for the year ahead is correct, as it’s usually an estimate, for example by giving an up to date meter reading.

What help can I get from my supplier?

The help you could get is offered on a case-by-case basis and depends on your circumstances and need.

Whether you are already debt or not, and how much you owe, will also influence the type of help your supplier can offer to you.

Grants and schemes

Your supplier is likely to direct you first to certain schemes and grants.

These are offered by suppliers themselves and other organisations including charities and can help you pay some or all of your bill, or pay off arrears.

Eligibility and the amount you can get will vary from one supplier to the next, so check with yours directly.

If your supplier does not offer this, or has closed applications, anyone can apply to the British Gas Energy Trust – you don’t have to be a customer.

You can get a grant worth up to £1,500 for energy debts in “exceptional circumstances” and usually £750.

You could get help via charities and other organisations, depending on where you live and your circumstances.

There are around 8,000 charities and organisations in the UK that offer cash to help struggling families.

Turn2Us has a free grants search tool so you can find out what help is available to you.

It’s also worth checking you’re getting all the benefit’s you’re entitled to, especially if you’ve had a change of circumstances.

The quickest way to see what benefits you may be able to claim is to use one of the three benefit calculators recommended by

Each one is free to use. They are: 

Your local council may also be able to help with cash and grants if you are struggling with bills through the Household Support Scheme

The winter fuel payment scheme, where those getting the state pension can get between £100 and £300 to offset the cost of keeping their homes warm.

Low income households can get £25 a week to help with energy bills during the winter thanks to the cold weather payment scheme too.

The warm home discount scheme offers £140 payment that goes toward your heating costs but this has closed for this winter.

Fuel vouchers if you’re on a prepayment meter

If you’re on a prepayment meter you might be able to get a one-off voucher to top up.

Andy explained: “Energy suppliers are able to provide people with vouchers that they can use for their meters.

“You can also get them through some food banks and other local support organisations and the eligibility criteria is usually the same – you’ll need to have been been referred by an advice provider, GP or similar.”

“It’s worth being aware of this, rather than sitting in the dark or without the heating.”

The fuel voucher scheme comes via the Fuel Bank Foundation charity, and it’s offered through a range of organisations, like food banks and Citizens Advice.

The best place to start to find somewhere which can offer you a fuel voucher is by asking your local council – you can find yours via by searching your postcode.

If you’re still not sure if you can get a voucher, you can get help from an adviser, Citizens Advice says.

The voucher should help you cover around two weeks worth of electricity use.

Some energy companies may also issue their own vouchers, so ask your supplier directly.

Repayment plans

If you fall behind on your bill, one way an energy supplier can help is by arranging a repayment plan.

It means you agree a certain amount of the debt you pay back each month on top of your normal bill.

But this will have to be affordable for you.

If you’re asked to repay an amount you think is unaffordable you can tell them this and they should take this into consideration.

Equally, if you start a repayment plan and it later becomes unaffordable you should contact your supplier again to see if you can reduce the amount to something more manageable.

For prepayment meters, each time you top up a certain percentage will go to the debt repayment.

“Every time you top up about you’re taking a little bit off the debt and then paying towards what you’re currently using,” he says.

“Often the debt there is a fixed percentage, or a fixed weekly amount, but again the supplier is obliged to take affordability for you into account.”

Affordability will have to take into account your other commitments too, including any other bill arrears or debt payments you have.

Advice from experts can help you work out what’s affordable in the context of your wider finances, and the supplier may refer you to an organisation like Stepchange or Citizens Advice to do this.

Andy says: “They have to actually have an understanding of your circumstances and to work out something that you’re actually going to be able to pay and stick to.”

“The supplier is not allowed to arbitrarily demand an amount of money that they think is reasonable. They have to do it based on your individual circumstances.”

Arranging a repayment plan with your provider will help you avoid being disconnected, though there are several steps before this would happen.

If you don’t pay your energy bill your supplier can refer you to debt collectors, and install a pre-payment meter through a court warrant.

Fuel Direct if you’re on benefits

One option for repayments is having the money deducted directly from your benefit payments.

This is known as Fuel Direct but you’ll want to consider carefully if this is the best option for you.

Andy says: “It’s something that I think you should think very carefully about before committing to. That’s because you’re effectively handing over the decision about the amount you pay to your supplier and the DWP.”

For example if you’re getting Universal Credit you’ll have 5% deducted from your normal payment to cover the debt.

But the amount can also depend on whether any other deductions for other debts apply.

You can have deductions that cover your ongoing bill too, if you want.

But if you choose this route then it could leave you short for bills elsewhere and with less to live on each month, particularly if your circumstances change.

You could arrange repayment amounts with your supplier directly that are for lower amounts.

It’s best to get advice on your other options first.

If you fall behind on bills and don’t contact your supplier you could miss out on the help they offer.

If you don’t pay your energy bill your supplier can refer you to debt collectors.

Your supplier will try measures to avoid cutting you off, which could mean installing a pre-payment meter if you don’t already have one.

They have to inform you of this, and can apply to the court to access your home and install one if you don’t respond, but the supplier must do this in the right way.

Andy says: “Threatening letters implying that it’s a possibility, for example, saying if you don’t get in touch with or don’t pay you’ll be cut off, and wording that’s just meant to worry people is not okay.”

It’s best to avoid it getting to the situation of being forced to have a pre-payment meter, either by talking to your supplier and working out another solution, or by agreeing to it.

If a supplier takes you to court to get one installed you’ll be landed with the court costs on top of the bill debt.

Andy says: “Unless you have a genuine dispute about whether you owe the money or not then it’s better to cooperate with them at that point,, otherwise it’s just gonna get more expensive for you.”

Anyone with a smart meter can be switched over to a prepayment mode by their supplier, rather than having a physical prepayment meter installed, and this can be done without permission.

There are some exceptions where you can refuse to be moved on to a prepayment meter.

For example if you have an illness or disability which means you would be harmed by your energy being cut off, or you would not be able to get to a shop to top up.

It’s worth noting that on a prepayment meter prices are higher than paying a bill by direct debit.

If you’re on benefits you can also have energy debts deducted from your payments, and this can be done without asking you.

It works in the same way as Fuel Direct except the supplier doesn’t need your permission to take the money.

Again it’s best to avoid this as it can leave you without cash for other essentials, so speak to your supplier before it reaches this point.

Can I get a payment break on my energy bill?

Many energy suppliers offered bill payment breaks to customers when the coronavirus pandemic hit to help struggling Brits.

But it’s less likely you’ll get one this time round, as energy prices look set to continue rising, though you could try asking if certain circumstances apply.

Andy says: “Energy suppliers might be able to agree a reduced payment, provided that you pay it back later.

“So if you’re a direct debit, they might agree to reduce your direct debit for a few months and then increase it again later so you pay it off.

“They would normally expect you to have a change in circumstance, for example, you’re on maternity leave and you’re going back to work in six months time, so you’re going to be able to pay more in future.”

But if your circumstances are not expected to change in the near future so you can start paying the cash back, it’s unlikely to be a suitable solution.

Even if you can show an increase in pay that means you could cover the higher payments later on, you still might not get it as energy prices are expected to rise further.

Andy says: “In the current environment with prices continuing to rise they will be more reluctant [to offer payment breaks].

“Even if you do go back to work in six months time, who’s to say that your bill’s not going to increase to the point where paying off your current usage and the amount that you’ve effectively built up in arrears over that time, is going to be affordable,.

Hard-up Brits across England and Wales can apply for breathing space, which is a two-month buffer, designed to give people time to get long-term debt help.

The scheme covers a wide range of debts, including energy. Debts will be frozen for this period and you won’t be chased by debt collectors or bailiffs, or be charged interest.

During the breathing space period, debtors must work with professional advisers to get back on track with repayments.

You can find out more about who’s eligible and how to apply.

Can I get my energy debt written off?

An energy company is unlikely to write off your debt, but you may get help through charitable organisations that mean you’re debt could be wiped out.

The grants are offered to hard-up households and could help pay off all or some of your bill arrears, but there is likely to be a lot of demand for this help.

Andy explains: “Because it’s a charitable fund, it means that it’s limited, so they are only going to give it out to a fixed number of cases each year, or up to a certain amount of money each year.

“Your best chances of getting an award from one of these organisations is going through an advice provider, like ourselves at Stepchange or Citizens Advice, or others like that and showing that you’re one of the most in need applicants.”

Check directly with your energy supplier if they offer grants to help pay off bill debts – how much you can get and eligibility varies between them.

If your supplier does not offer this, or has closed applications, anyone can apply to the British Gas Energy Trust – you don’t have to be a customer.

You can get a grant worth up to £1,500 for energy debts in “exceptional circumstances” and usually £750.

If you were successful then you would still have to maintain your ongoing payments for current energy usage afterwards.

If you’re struggling with energy bills on top of other debt then it’s worth speaking to a specialist who can advise you on yout options.

There are plenty of services you can take advantage of and they offer free and friendly advice on how to manage debt.

Most of them can offer you free guidance and help in person, over the telephone or online.

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They can also help you take the next steps if you need a debt management plan (DMP) to tackle your debt or an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA). These are agreements for managing multiple debts.

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