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Dealing with high gas and electricity bills

This fact sheet covers England & WalesWe also have a version for Scotland if you need it.

Millions of households are facing increased gas and electricity bills because of the energy price crisis. Many people are concerned about their finances and how they will keep warm and afford their energy bills. This fact sheet provides information on the support that is available and offers advice on how you can try to make your living costs more manageable.

Use this fact sheet to:

  • learn what support is available if you are struggling with your energy bills;
  • understand what a deficit budget is; and
  • find out what you can do if you can’t afford to cover essential costs.

Contact your energy supplier

If you are struggling to pay your energy bills or you have already fallen behind with payments, get in touch with your supplier as soon as possible. Your supplier has a range of options to help you. The support they may be able to offer you will depend on your situation. Examples of help include:

  • a short-term payment break or a reduction in your payments;
  • advice on accessing financial support that may be available, like benefits you may be entitled to or grants that could pay towards energy debt; and
  • energy efficiency advice.

If you are in arrears, your supplier should work with you to set up a repayment plan that is affordable to you. For more information, see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Taking meter readings

If your bill is based on estimated readings, your supplier could be charging you too much if their estimate is higher than your actual usage. Keep your energy bills as accurate as possible by regularly taking meter readings and sending them to your supplier. If your bill is based on an estimated reading that is too low, providing a meter reading will increase your bill.

For information on how to read your meter, see the Citizens Advice webpage How to read your gas or electricity meter.

If you are not able to physically take a meter reading, your supplier may be able to offer you extra help. See the Priority services register information in our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Smart meters

Smart meters are a new type of gas and electricity meter that can send automatic meter readings to your supplier. Bills can be more accurate if you have a smart meter because automatic meter readings mean that your supplier does not have to estimate how much energy you have used.

Smart meters also come with an in-home display, which is a device that shows you how much energy you are using and how much it is costing you in pounds and pence. The information from an in-home display may also help you to identify how you can reduce your energy usage to save money.

Over the next few years, suppliers will have to offer a free smart meter to all of their customers. If you do not have a smart meter already, you can contact your supplier to ask if they will install one for you now.

The Smart Energy GB website has more information about smart meters and their benefits.

Smart meters if you rent your home

You can choose to have a smart meter if you are named on the bill. However, you should check your tenancy agreement to see if there are any rules about the type of meter that can be installed in the property. You may need your landlord’s permission before having a smart meter installed.

If you already have a smart meter

Some smart meters have temporarily stopped working in ‘smart mode’. This means that they are not sending automatic meter readings to suppliers.

If you have a smart meter, use the Citizens Advice smart meter check tool to see if your meter is working in ‘smart mode’. If it isn’t, you should send regular meter readings to your supplier to make sure that you are billed accurately while your meter is not working in smart mode.

Prepayment meters

You should speak to your supplier if you have a prepayment meter and your credit is running low or has run out.

Your supplier may be able to offer you a fuel voucher. A fuel voucher is a code that can be used to add credit to your gas or electricity prepayment meter. Fuel vouchers can usually be redeemed at Post Offices and outlets with Paypoint or Payzone services. You will not have to repay any credit you get through a fuel voucher.

When you speak to your supplier, let them know you are in financial difficulty and explain if there is anything about your circumstances that makes you vulnerable. There are a wide range of reasons you could be in a vulnerable situation. For example, having a low income, living with a physical or mental health issue or living in a cold energy-inefficient home. Your supplier may offer you an additional support credit to help keep you on supply.

Most prepayment meters also have functions built in to provide:

  • emergency credit, which provides a small amount of credit in emergency situations where you cannot top up your meter; and
  • friendly-hours credit, which allows you to access a small amount of credit at times when top-up points are likely to be closed (this is usually evenings, weekends and bank holidays).

If you do not know how to access the emergency or friendly-hours credit functions, contact your supplier.

You will have to repay any additional support, emergency or friendly-hours credit that you are given. Discuss with your supplier how the credit will be repaid. Your supplier must consider your ability to pay when agreeing a repayment plan with you. For more information, see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Help with the cost of energy

Government support

The government has announced the following support to help households with rising energy bills.

Energy Bills Support Scheme. This scheme gives a £200 discount on electricity bills in autumn 2022. This support will also be available to you if you are on a prepayment meter, but we don’t know how this will work yet. The discount will be repaid through a £40 a year levy added to bills for five years starting from April 2023. For more information on the scheme, see GOV.UK.

Council tax rebate and discretionary fund (England). If you live in England, you may be eligible for a council tax rebate of £150. The payment will be made from April 2022 to households in council tax bands A-D that are not exempt from council tax.

If you are eligible and you pay your council tax by direct debit, you should receive the money into your bank account. If you do not pay by direct debit, your local authority should contact you to invite you to make a claim for this payment.

Local authorities will also be helping some households in England that are not eligible for the £150 council tax rebate payment. This may apply to you if your home is exempt from council tax or you have a low income and your home is in council tax band E-H. Contact your local council for information on eligibility and how to apply.

See GOV.UK for a tool to check your council tax band and for a fact sheet with further information.

Cost-of-living payment (Wales). A £150 payment will be given to all households that are in receipt of Council Tax Reduction, and to households in council tax bands A-D.

If you are eligible and you pay your council tax by direct debit, you should receive the money into your bank account. If you do not pay by direct debit, you may have to register details with your local council to receive the payment. For more information, contact your local council.

Discretionary support scheme (Wales). The government in Wales has made £25 million available to local authorities to provide support to households struggling with the rising costs of living. This discretionary fund may be able to help you with heating costs. Contact your local council for details of their scheme and how to apply.

Household Support Fund (England)

The Household Support Fund allows councils to give small grants to help vulnerable households meet essential costs, including paying energy bills. Contact your local council to check if you may be eligible for support from the fund.

Warm Home Discount

You can check GOV.UK to see if your supplier takes part in the Warm Home Discount Scheme. The Warm Home Discount applies a one-off £140 discount to your energy bill between October and March. There are two ways to qualify for a Warm Home Discount, by meeting the criteria for a ‘core group’ or a ‘broader group’

Core group

You should automatically receive this discount by 31 March 2022 if your supplier takes part in the scheme and on 4 July 2021:

  • you or your partner were named on the energy bill; and
  • you or your partner were getting the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit.

If you meet the above criteria but have not yet had the discount or a letter confirming that you will, contact the Warm Homes Discount helpline on 0800 731 0214 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm).

Broader group

The Warm Home Discount is also available to some people on a low income or if you get certain benefits. Each electricity supplier participating in the Warm Home Discount Scheme decides the eligibility criteria for the broader group and you have to apply for the discount if you meet the criteria.

All electricity suppliers have stopped taking applications for the winter 2021-22 Warm Home Discount for the broader group. You can find more information on the Warm Home Discount Scheme on GOV.UK. There are plans to increase the Warm Home Discount to £150 and to extend the eligibility criteria for winter 2022-23. We will update this fact sheet when more information is published.

Winter Fuel Payment

The Winter Fuel Payment is a one-off, tax-free payment made during the winter to help with your heating costs.

If you were born on or before 26 September 1955, check if you received a Winter Fuel Payment of between £100 to £300. Most people eligible for the payment will have received an automatic payment in November or December 2021, but some people have to claim the payment.

If you did not receive an automatic payment, check if you meet the eligibility criteria on GOV.UK. If you meet the eligibility criteria but need to make a claim for the Winter Fuel Payment, call the Winter Fuel Payment Centre on 0800 731 0160 (Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 3:30pm).

Cold Weather Payment

The Cold Weather Payment is a £25 payment made for each seven-day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March. If you are eligible the payment will be made when the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below over seven consecutive days.

To be eligible for this payment, you need to be getting certain benefits. For full eligibility criteria, see GOV.UK.

Cold Weather Payments are usually made automatically. However, you must make sure you tell Jobcentre Plus if you are getting income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support and:

  • you or your partner have a baby; or
  • a child under five comes to live with you.

If Jobcentre Plus is not informed of the change, you might not automatically get the Cold Weather Payment.

Trust funds and charities

You may be able to get a grant from a charitable fund to pay off energy debts. You can ask your supplier if they have any funds or schemes that can help you, or you can contact us for advice.

There may be other charities that can help you with your energy bills. Turn2us can try to find charities that may be able to help you. You can do a search on the Turn2us website for a grant.

Energy efficiency

Free energy saving advice

The Simple Energy Advice website provides free, impartial information and guidance on how to save energy. It also has a search tool where you can search for financial support for national and local schemes that may be able to help. For example, there may be schemes which can provide you with free installation energy efficiency measures in your home.

You can call Simple Energy Advice on 0800 444 202 (Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and weekends 9am to 5pm).

Ten top tips for saving energy

Take a look at the Energy Saving Trust’s top ten tips for saving energy to see if you can do anything else to lower your bills.

What is a deficit budget?

You may find that rising energy prices push you into a deficit budget. You have a deficit budget if the money you need to spend each month on living costs is higher than the money you receive each month from work or benefits.

Consider essential costs only

A deficit budget means not having enough money to pay for essentials such as your home, food or travel to work. Do not include debt repayments at this point, just essential living costs. Does your income cover your household bills if you don’t pay any debts? Debt payments are paid after essential household bills.

One impact of having a deficit budget can be that you start to rely on credit to top up your income. For example, using a credit card, going further into an overdraft, or asking friends or family for help. If you do not get out of a deficit budget, your debt levels will keep increasing and eventually it may not be possible to borrow any more money.

A deficit budget can also mean you cannot afford to pay for essential bills like your mortgage, rent, or gas and electricity.

Missing essential household bills

Your home or essential services could be at risk if you miss payments on household bills. Contact us for advice if you are struggling to make payments on your bills or if you have already missed some payments.

A deficit budget can also stop you from being able to put money aside for one-off bills like car repairs, house maintenance or emergencies like a washing machine breakdown.

Completing a budget sheet

You can complete a personal budget sheet using the Your budget tool on our website.

The budget sheet is split into fixed costs and flexible costs. Fixed costs are items such as mortgage or rent, council tax, gas, electricity, water and insurances. Flexible costs include spending on food, clothing, hairdressing, socialising, meals at work and pocket money.

Paper budget sheet

Call us if you need us to send you a paper version of the budget sheet.

Take time to complete your budget sheet and think about whether it is accurate. For example, if a family member pays something for you, reflect it in the budget sheet. Make sure you are realistic, even if you are spending more than you have coming in. Don’t be tempted to stop putting figures into the budget sheet just because it shows you are spending more than your income. You need to work out what you need to spend and what you would like to budget for. Once you have done this you can start to look at where you might be able to make changes.

If you have a debt such as a county court judgment (CCJ) or a magistrates’ court fine that is up to date, you need to add it to the budget. Not paying could have serious consequences. Contact us for advice if you cannot afford the payments you are required to make. You can also find more information in our Varying a CCJ fact sheet and our Magistrates’ court fines fact sheet.

If you have other priority debts with a payment plan in place, these payment arrangements may also need to be changed. Contact us for advice if this affects you.

Increasing income

Some people do not get all of the income they are entitled to. This makes it harder to afford living costs. There are a number of ways you may be able to increase your income.

  • Check if you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to. You can look at GOV.UK or Turn2us for benefits calculators that you can use. If you are in Wales, Advicelink Cymru can help you check and claim benefits that you may be entitled to. For contact details, see Useful contacts towards the end of this fact sheet.
  • Can you increase your hours at work or get any overtime?
  • If you don’t work, can you look for work, either part-time or full-time? If you have a part-time job, could you ask for more hours or look for a second part-time job? Could your partner look for some work? Are there any other members of the household, such as adult children, that can contribute? Can they contribute more than they do now?
  • If you have a spare room, could you rent it to a lodger? The government has a Rent a Room Scheme that allows you to earn some income from a lodger tax free. You have some responsibilities as part of the scheme.

Impact on benefits

If you are receiving any benefits, check whether taking on extra work will affect your benefit entitlement.

Reducing costs

Reducing living costs can be difficult to do. You need to think carefully about this. Ask yourself if you can really live on the amounts you decide to set for yourself. Think about how long you need to live on a reduced budget and ask yourself if it is realistic to manage for so long with lower spending.

Reducing your flexible costs

  • Can you reduce how much you spend on clothing? Don’t be tempted to remove this figure from the budget completely as you are likely to need some clothing or footwear in the long run. If you have children, remember they may need school uniforms too. See GOV.UK for information on getting help with the cost of school uniforms.
  • Can you take food from home to eat at work rather than buying food at work?
  • Can you reduce your food and toiletries bill by shopping around?
  • Can you reduce your smoking costs? Your GP may be able to help with this. The NHS has a Quit Smoking website and mobile app that can help.
  • Make sure you are not paying for health costs that you could get reduced or free. If you live in England, see the NHS website. In Wales the situation is slightly different, and the information is on the Welsh Government website.
  • Use price comparison websites to shop around for cheaper car and home insurance.
  • Look for the best mobile phone, TV and internet deals. If you get certain benefits, you may be eligible for a social tariff which offers reduced prices for broadband and some landline services. For information on social tariffs that are available, see the Ofcom website.
  • Can you travel by public transport instead of using a car? If you use public transport, is it cheaper if you buy a weekly or monthly travel pass or a season ticket?

Short-term steps

You may be able to take short-term steps to help balance your budget quickly. Stopping some spending may allow you to have enough money to pay for essential bills such as your mortgage or rent, council tax, gas and electricity and TV licence.

Steps you may be able to take include stopping spending on items like clothing, socialising, meals at work, house maintenance, gifts, pocket money, hairdressing and opticians and dental costs. However, in the long-term, you will need to add this kind of spending back into your budget.

Long-term steps

You may be able to reduce your spending on some fixed costs. This could reduce your spending now and in the long term.

  • If you pay your council tax over 10 months, you may be able to pay over 12 months instead. This will reduce the amount you pay every month, but you will not get a payment break in February and March. Contact your council to ask about this.
  • If you pay for a car or household items on hire purchase, you may be able to return these goods. This will mean you will not need to include these in your budget as an essential payment. Contact us for advice if you are thinking about doing this. You can also find more information in our Hire purchase debt fact sheet.
  • Check if you can reduce the cost of your water bills. The Consumer Council for Water website has details of help that may be available, including tariffs which can reduce bills for some customers.
  • You might need to consider whether you can afford to pay the mortgage or rent where you live. Could you think about downsizing? Sometimes mortgage lenders might offer help such as extending the term of the mortgage to reduce your monthly mortgage payment. Contact us for advice.

Still in deficit

It is not always possible to sort out your deficit budget by increasing income and reducing costs. If your budget is still in a deficit after you have reviewed your income and expenditure, you may need to decide which essential costs are not affordable. Contact us for advice if you feel that you are in a position where you have to stop paying an essential household bill.

Missing essential household bills

If you miss payments for essential household bills your home or essential services could be at risk. Contact us for advice before you miss any essential bills.

Emergency situations

Some of the steps above might take some time to put in place. While you are taking steps to change your income and expenditure, you might struggle to buy essentials such as food. When you apply for benefits, there is often a waiting period before your first payment.

  • Food banks can give you a minimum of three days' food in an emergency. For information about your nearest food bank go to the Trussell Trust website or contact us for advice.
  • If you are claiming benefits, you might be able to claim an advance payment. This is repayable but might help with one-off expenses or allow you to pay for essentials until your benefits start. See GOV.UK for more information about a Universal Credit advance. If you claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support or Pension Credit, see GOV.UK for more information on advances you could claim.
  • If you are on a low income, you may be able to get a Crisis Grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund to help in an emergency situation, such as not having enough money for food or to put your heating on. For more information, see mygov.scot.
  • If you live in England, your council may have a local welfare assistance scheme that can help in an emergency situation, such as not having enough money for food or to put your heating on. Councils decide their own rules for their schemes. Contact your local council to see if they have a scheme that can help you.
  • If you live in Wales, you may be apply for an Emergency Assistance Payment to help with your costs such as food, gas, electricity or clothing in an emergency situation.
  • If you are moving, you could stop paying some essential bills. It is important you are sure you are moving before you do this. If this is something you are thinking about, contact us for advice. Whether you can stop making payments will depend on what you can afford and what the law says about what can happen if you miss payments.

Increasing debt

If you don’t pay an essential bill, it will create debt. Stopping essential payments could see further charges being added and is likely to leave you with a debt to pay later.

Useful contacts

Advicelink Cymru A service for if you live in Wales that can help you check and claim benefits that you may be entitled to. Phone: 0808 250 5700 www.gov.wales/claim-whats-yours

Citizens Advice consumer helpline A consumer helpline for if you need more help with an energy problem. Phone: 0808 223 1133 www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Disability Energy Support A free energy and water advice service for households where one or more disabled people live. Phone: 0808 801 0828 www.scope.org.uk/disability-energy-support/

Simple Energy Advice Free, impartial information and guidance on how to save energy. Phone: 0800 444 202 www.simpleenergyadvice.org.uk

Shelter For expert housing advice if you live in England. Phone: 0808 800 4444 www.shelter.org.uk

Shelter Cymru For expert housing advice if you live in Wales. Phone: 0800 049 5495 www.sheltercymru.org.uk

Turn2us A national charity that provides benefits checks and has a database of charitable grants. Phone: 0808 802 2000 www.turn2us.org.uk

Trussell Trust For information on food banks near you. Phone: 01722 580 178 www.trusselltrust.org

Other fact sheets that may help you

Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet

Hire purchase debt fact sheet

Magistrates’ court fines fact sheet

Varying a CCJ fact sheet