Can I get help to pay my arrears?
If you receive benefits you may be able to arrange for payments to be taken directly from your benefits using a scheme called third party deductions or Fuel Direct. This means that part of your benefits are paid straight to your energy supplier to help cover the arrears and your current energy usage.
Fuel Direct will deduct an amount to cover the estimated gas or electric you use each week, plus a fixed amount towards the arrears. This can be a helpful way to clear arrears in manageable amounts and prevent your supply from being cut off or further action being taken. It's important to think carefully before setting up Fuel Direct as it will reduce the amount of benefits you are left with in cash.
To find out more about Fuel Direct, contact Jobcentre Plus or your local pension centre if you receive pension credits.
Other schemes to help with gas and electricity bills
During winter there are several government schemes offering support towards your gas and electricity bills if you're receiving certain benefits or on a low income.
If you're looking to save money on your existing energy bills, utility switching can help you keep your bills lower and get the best deal from your energy supplier.
You can change to a different supplier at any time, except if:
- You have arrears of more than £500 still outstanding on a pre-payment meter
- You have a normal meter with arrears that have been outstanding for more than 28 days
There are some exceptions to this, such as whether your arrears were the fault of the supplier.
There are lots of price comparison websites that can help you find the best deal for your gas and electricity. Before you make the switch it’s a good idea to do some research, just in case your current supplier can help you save money.
We’d recommend using a switching service that has the Ofgem confidence code logo. This means they offer a ‘whole of market’ comparison, and you can be confident that you’re being offered impartial and unbiased comparisons.
How can I make a complaint?
If you feel you've been treated unfairly by your energy supplier, you can raise a complaint with them following their complaints process. It's a good idea to think about how you'd like your complaint to be resolved, for example would you like an apology or reimbursing.
To support your complaint, it's worth keeping a track of all the contact you've had with your energy supplier as this could come in useful at a later date. Your energy supplier will need time to investigate your complaint fully, so you'll need to be patient while you wait for their decision.
If you're not satisfied with the outcome, you can escalate your complaint to Ombudsman Services. It's free to do so, and they'll review the evidence before making an impartial decision.
What should I do if I owe money to an energy supplier that closes?
You should carry on making the payments to repay what you owe as agreed, unless you’re told otherwise.
When you’re on a debt management plan with us we continue to make the payments for you. There’ll be no change to your plan. We will do this we’re told not to by the creditor or administrator.
Ofgem is the UK’s independent energy regulator. There’s lots of useful information on their website.
Can an energy supplier bill me for energy used over a year ago?
In April 2018, Ofgem ruled that energy suppliers couldn’t ‘back-bill’ their customers for energy that was used more than a year ago.
Back-billing is when suppliers estimate bills due to not having regular, accurate meter readings. Once they have the meter readings, the supplier might send a catch-up bill if the estimated amount was too low. The only exception to this ban is if a customer prevents an energy company from taking accurate meter readings, for example by refusing access to the meter to take a reading.
Since then, there have been news reports of closed electricity companies who have mistakenly calculated how much money their former customers owed on their final bill. As a result, some customers have received letters saying that they owe money to the closed energy firm or the company that’s collecting on their behalf.
If this happens to you, and you don’t believe you owe this money, you do have the right to lodge a complaint with the company. If you don’t receive a satisfactory response, you can escalate your complaint to The Energy Ombudsman.
You must not ignore any letters that you receive about your energy bills, whether it’s from your current supplier or a previous one. Even if you disagree with the amount that you’ve been billed, there’s still a possibility that you owe some money. If the company that sent the letter doesn't hear from you, they may consider pursuing enforcement action through the courts if you live in England and Wales or through the courts if you live in Scotland, which could further complicate the problem.
If in doubt, follow the complaint procedure mentioned above, and get in touch with Ofgem and the Energy Ombudsman for further advice.