Dealing with your priority debts

How do I avoid having my energy cut off?

You must keep paying for the energy you are using and an amount off your debt even while you are trying to make an arrangement. To work this out, add up your last four bills to find out the total amount for the year, and then divide this by 12 to work out how much energy you use each month.

If your bills are high, check that your account is not based on estimates. Get an accurate reading. If your bills seem very low, it is also important to check as you could be underpaying and be sent an unexpected large bill.

The supplier should accept the following arrangements.

Instalments

You could arrange to pay the gas or electricity bill by weekly or monthly instalments, paying off the whole amount before the next bill arrives.

Budget plans

The energy supplier works out how much energy you use over the whole year and you pay a fixed amount every week, every two weeks or every month. You can spread any unpaid bill over the whole year and include it in the budget plan. If you cannot afford the amount the supplier is asking you to pay under the budget plan, ask for a special arrangement. The supplier should let you pay off your debt at a rate you can afford, even if this means spreading the arrears over a longer period of time than a year.

Pre-payment meters

You pay for the gas and electricity you are continuing to use plus an amount you can afford off the arrears through a token, card or coin meter. You must be asked if you want a pre-payment meter before your supply is cut off, if it is safe to install one.

Extra advice:

drawbacks with pre-payment meters

Remember, there can be drawbacks to having a pre-payment meter. Your energy charges may be higher and you will not be able to use any energy if you cannot afford to top up your meter.

If the price of energy goes up, your pre-payment meter should be reset within one month. This means arrears should not build up on your account. If this does not happen and you are asked to pay for the arrears, you can complain. Contact us for advice.

If you have not fallen behind on an arrears repayment arrangement, the energy supplier cannot insist that you have a pre-payment meter installed. But you do have the option to ask for a pre-payment meter if you want one.

Direct payments from benefits

If you get Income Support, Pension Credit, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or Universal Credit and owe more than a set amount on your energy bill, you could ask the DWP to take deductions from your benefit and pay them directly to the gas or electricity supplier. This is called Fuel Direct and is part of the Third Party Deduction Scheme. This covers the gas or electricity you are continuing to use plus a standard amount towards the arrears. Contact your DWP office and tell the energy supplier you are doing this.

Extra advice:

direct payment schemes

Some energy companies may tell you that there is no longer a direct payment scheme. Don't be put off. Make sure you apply to the DWP as they make the decision, not the supplier.

If you are on Income Support, Pension Credit, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or Universal Credit and you have been disconnected, you may be able to get help from your local council or a loan to cover the cost of having your supply reconnected. However, the DWP cannot help you pay off energy debts, except in rare circumstances where you may be able to get a short-term advance. Contact us for advice.