Energy debt on credit meters
This page is for energy customers in debt on a credit meter (where you pay for your gas or electricity by direct debit, standing order or on receipt of a bill from your energy supplier).
If you have debt on a prepayment meter (where you pay for gas or electricity upfront by topping up a card or key in a shop or online), please see our Energy Debt on Prepayment Meters page.
If any of the following apply, we recommend you seek professional debt advice.
- You have a large debt.
- You have multiple debts.
- You can’t afford a repayment plan.
- You’re being threatened with enforcement action.
You can get professional debt advice from these organisations:
How to manage debt with your energy supplier
1. Make sure your bill is correct
Take a meter reading and submit it to your energy company either online or by phone, even if you have a smart meter. This will make sure that your energy company has billed you for the correct amount.
2. Contact your energy company
Let them know that you’re struggling and you’d like to set up a payment plan. Ask if you can speak to their ‘extra help’ team (sometimes called debt team, collections team or repayment team). This team will have more power to reduce your repayment amount or extend your repayment over a longer period of time.
If you fit into any of their ‘vulnerability criteria’, such as having a physical or mental health condition, being over 60 or having young children in the home, ask to be added to their Priority Service Register. This may mean they will be more flexible with your debt repayment, and may reduce the likelihood of enforcement action.
Find out how much the debt is, making sure they’re calculating it using the meter reading you just took.
Ask how much your average monthly usage is. It is important that this amount is paid each month to prevent increasing the debt. Any debt repayment plan will need to be added to this amount.
If you are already paying by direct debit, ask how much of this is your debt repayment and how much is your monthly usage.
Ask your energy company if they know of a trust fund you can apply to to have your debt reduced. Some have their own, others refer to the British Gas Energy Trust. You’ll need to provide evidence of your income and expenditure, and proof that you have set up the repayment plan and made three months’ worth of payments. You might get some or all your debt cleared this way. But you can usually only apply to a trust fund every two years and not all applications are successful, so don’t rely on this option.
3. Agree a payment plan
You may need to set up a payment plan if you are unable to pay your debt in full, or can no longer afford your current payment plan.
You’ll need to find a balance between what you can realistically afford to pay, what you would like to pay, how much the energy company wants you to pay and any energy price increases.
- Tell your energy company that you’d like to set up or change the payment plan.
- The first payment plan they offer will be for a short period of time so they get the money back quickly. You don’t have to agree to this; you can negotiate the length of the plan and so reduce the monthly payments. Often you can get up to five years agreed.
- Be realistic about what you can afford to pay because, if you miss a payment, the energy company may send your debt to a third-party debt recovery agency (see enforcement action box below).
- If they can’t offer you a debt repayment period you’re happy with and you can’t afford what they’re suggesting, ask what the next stage in the process is. They may ask you to get debt advice, or to speak to their own money advice service.
- If you are going to seek debt advice, ask them to freeze your account while you do so. This will mean that they won’t contact you about the debt for a set period (usually six weeks).
- If you are struggling to pay the agreed plan, get back in contact with your energy company and let them know. They are much more lenient when you are engaging with them.
- Payment plans may be cancelled if you miss a payment, and you will need to set up another plan. The repayment amount or length of time to repay may be different second time around.
Find some Breathing Space with the debt respite scheme
The government’s Breathing Space scheme is available through most debt advice organisations. It is 60 days respite while you get debt advice and make a plan. You’ll still need to make repayments, but no enforcement action should be taken, no interest should be charged, and the creditors should not contact you about your debt.
If you’re in debt and not following an agreed payment plan, your energy company can go to court to get permission to replace your meter with a prepayment meter. If you are on a smart meter, they can do this remotely without needing to go to court first. They will then take a repayment every time you top up.
Make sure that your energy company and any third parties instructed by them are aware of any vulnerabilities you have in the household, such as a physical or mental health condition, and any young or older people living with you. This can sometimes stop a prepayment meter from being installed.
Instead of installing a prepayment meter, your energy company may use a debt recovery agency to reclaim what you owe. Once this happens, you will no longer be able to apply for a trust fund, and any negotiations will need to be with the agency and not the energy company unless there has been a mistake made with the debt calculations.
Making a complaint
If your energy company can’t give you a payment plan over more than one or two years and they don’t suggest any routes for you to get an affordable rate, you have the right to open a complaint with them.