Switching energy supplier can help bring the cost of gas and electricity down, but can you make the switch if you owe money to your existing provider? Here, we look at what your options are if you’re in energy debt but want to switch to a better deal.
Can I switch my energy supplier if I owe them money?
You can, but it will depend on how long you’ve been in debt for. If the debt is less than 28 days old, you’re free to switch energy provider. If you decide to go ahead with the switch, your old supplier will simply add what you owe to your final bill.
If you’ve been in debt for more than 28 days, you’ll need to pay what you owe before you can switch. If you try to change your supplier but have owed money for more than 28 days, your application will usually be rejected.
Switching if you have a prepayment meter
If you’ve got a prepayment meter, you can switch to another provider as long as your debts are less than £500 for gas and £500 for electricity. If this is the case, your new energy supplier will need to agree to take on your debt and you’ll pay them what you owe instead of your old provider (this is officially known as a debt assignment protocol).
To make sure the debt is repaid, your new gas and electricity supplier will set out a repayment plan which you’ll need to agree to. Under rules from energy regulator Ofgem, the repayment plan must be affordable and reasonable.
If you owe your energy supplier more than £500, you won’t be able to switch, and you’ll need to try and reduce your debt before you can leave.
Switching provider if you’re disputing what you owe
If you’re in debt because you’re disputing how much you owe – for example, you think you’ve been billed incorrectly, you should make a complaint. Under these circumstances, your energy provider should let you switch.
Can my energy supplier stop me from switching?
Your current energy supplier can refuse your request to move away from them, but they must tell you why. If they don’t, you should make a complaint. If you do this, your supplier has eight weeks to try and resolve the issue.
If you file a complaint but don’t agree with the decision your supplier has made or they don’t respond at all, you can take it to the Energy Ombudsman. This service is free and impartial with the aim of resolving the dispute (rather than issuing blame).
How can the Energy Ombudsman help?
The ombudsman will ask you to explain what the problem is, along with any evidence you have that you believe supports your view. They’ll also ask your supplier for the same information.
Based on the evidence they receive, the ombudsman will offer you and your supplier a possible resolution. This usually takes an average of six weeks but if your circumstances are particularly tricky, it could take longer.
You don’t have to accept the ombudsman decision and in some cases, you may be able to appeal. However, this is typically only allowed if significant new evidence comes to light.
If you don’t accept the solution being offered, you can take your energy supplier to court.
What should I do if I can’t pay back my energy debt but want to switch?
If you’ve got an outstanding bill over 28 days old, you’ll need to pay it before you can switch to a new supplier.
If you’re struggling to cover the cost, it’s important to speak to your energy provider in the first instance. In most cases, your energy supplier will work with you and create an affordable repayment plan so that you can pay off the debt gradually.
If you receive certain benefits, you can arrange for some of your allowance to go directly to your energy supplier to pay the debt (this scheme is known as Fuel Direct). It’s simple to organise – just speak to your energy provider and give them permission.
The amount you pay is fixed and will continue until the debt is paid back. You can cancel this arrangement whenever you want, but you’ll need to make other plans to pay back what you owe. To find out more, take a look at GOV.UK.
If you don’t currently receive any benefits, check what you’re entitled to. Our guide to what you can do if you’re struggling with bills, covers financial help and available benefits.
Can my debt be written off?
It’s very unusual for a debt to be written off and most energy suppliers will pursue alternatives, such as agreeing to a repayment plan.
However, some energy suppliers do offer grants which can pay off your energy debt. You’ll usually need to meet certain conditions so double check if you’re eligible before applying; currently help is available from:
What are the benefits of switching energy provider?
Switching energy provider is one of the simplest ways to bring down your energy bills, particularly if you move from a standard variable tariff to a fixed rate tariff.
Fixed rate tariffs lock you into a contract for a set period of time (usually 12 or 24 months). During this time, you’ll pay a fixed price for each unit of gas or electricity you use which can help you budget (don’t forget – your bills can still go up and down depending on how much energy you use).
The switching process itself is straightforward and can be completed in as little as a week if your supplier has agreed to the Energy Switch Guarantee. You also have 14 days to change your mind if you decide to stick with your existing energy supplier.
To get a better idea of how switching suppliers works and the type of tariffs available, head to our energy switching guide.