Personal Finance

What to do if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills

If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills they can feel like a noose around your neck. Here are a few options available if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills.

You need to keep warm and use energy to power your home, but the soaring cost of gas and electricity is forcing more and more people into fuel poverty. NimbleFins explores some schemes out there to help, both from the Government and charities.

Check you're getting all financial help and benefits you're entitled to

You might qualify for:

  • Winter Fuel Payment - Between £100 and £300 to help pay for energy bills. Available to those receiving the State Pension, or some (but not all) other social security benefits.
  • Cold Weather Payment - a £25 payment each time the temperature drops, or is forecast to drop 0C or below for seven consecutive days, between November 1 and March 31. This is available for people on Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Support for Mortgage Interest.
  • Warm Home Discount - £140 discount for some people in low income households or getting Pension Credit.
  • Household Support Fund - A funding package to help vulnerable families this winter. The money has been handed to local councils to distribute, so contact your authority for help accessing the fund.

If you live in Scotland or Wales there is also the:

You may also be eligible for other benefits which can open the door for the above as well. Check if there are benefits available to you by using one of the independent benefits calculators recommended by the Government.

The British Gas Energy Trust has a helpful guide on the benefits available which you may not realise you're entitled to. From the Bereavement Support Payment to Child Benefit, there are a number of welfare options out there.

Contact your supplier

They have a duty to help you come find a solution. You can negotiate so the payment plan works for you, taking into consideration how much you can afford and how much energy you're going to be using in the future.

Use the Breathing Space scheme

This gives up to 60 days respite from debt chasers, interest, fines and court action. It is officially called the Debt Respite Scheme and can relieve the pressure and stress of debt by giving you time to get a plan together. Debt charity Step Change has information on how to apply.

Use your benefits to pay the bills

The Government allows third party deductions to benefits to help pay some bills, including rent, service charges, fuel and water bills. This is sometimes called the Fuel Direct scheme. The benefits that can be used are:

  • Universal Credit
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit

Your Universal Credit can be deducted by up to 5% for gas, electricity and water bills (and more for other bills like fines and rent).

Other benefits can be deducted by £3.70 each to repay debt, and an additional amount to cover what you're currently using.

JobCentre Plus or the Pension Service can help set up the Fuel Direct scheme with your supplier.

Try to reduce your energy use

You’ve undoubtedly already tried to do this, but it’s worth reminding yourself of ways to save energy just in case.

It’s best to not dry your clothes on radiators, but do hang them out around the time your heating will come on, and there are ways to try and reflect the heat from the back of the radiator into the rest of the house. Read more of our tips to reduce energy use here.

Apply for a grant

Energy companies offer grants and schemes to help people in difficulty, even if they are not your supplier. Citizens Advice has a list of energy companies that offer grants.

Charis Grants also has a list of options that are open to applications. The British Gas Energy Trust asks applicants to get financial advice before applying as this will help chances of securing the grant. They have a list of organisations that offer free advice.

Can you make savings by changing the way you pay?

Paying by direct debit is usually the cheapest way to pay your bills.

And shopping around for a deal, particularly one on a fixed rate tariff, is wise to avoid going on the standard variable tariff which can fluctuate without you having any control. Nimblefins offers some advice on how to compare the energy market.

A prepayment meter usually charges more. But some people appreciate a meter to help keep them on track.

Other help

Citizens Advice has a helpline which can talk you through options if you're still in need of assistance.

Erin Yurday

Erin Yurday is the CEO, Co-founder and Editor of NimbleFins. Prior to NimbleFins, she worked as an investment professional and as the finance expert in Stanford University's Graduate School of Business case writing team. Read more on LinkedIn.

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