Can’t pay your energy bill?
Every week, hundreds of people call our advice line because they can’t pay their energy bills. Many have been asking what they can do and even if they should stop paying altogether.
We’ve seen some campaigns urging people to stop direct debits to their energy supplier. But what happens if you don’t pay? And what could you do instead if you’re really struggling?
Here’s the key information and advice we’re giving. We hope this supports you to make your own informed choice if whether to pay your energy bills or not if is something you’ve been thinking about.
What happens if I don’t pay my energy bill?
It’s likely you have a contract with your energy supplier which means you’ve agreed to certain terms and conditions. The first step is to check your contract or your supplier’s website to find out what you’ve agreed to and what could happen if you get into energy bill debt.
If you stop paying your bills, the money you owe your supplier starts to build up in the form of debt.
Credit meter customers:
If you have a credit meter (which means you get a regular bill for your energy) and you don’t pay, the energy supplier will likely write to you asking you to make the payments for the debt owed. Your supplier must give you notice to pay this and offer you some options like a repayment plan if you’re struggling. You may lose any discount you currently have for paying by direct debit if you stop.
If you still don’t pay you may be forced by a court warrant to have a prepayment meter installed. But they cannot do this if a prepayment meter would be unsafe or impractical for you, for example if you have a health condition which means you are at risk if your gas or electricity is cut off.
If your supplier moves you onto a prepayment meter, any debt you have is added to the meter and a set amount will be deducted each week. This means you must pay the debt owed at a set weekly amount or get cut off.
Prepayment meter customers:
If you’re on a prepayment meter and stop topping-up, your supply may be cut off, and later you may have to repay your existing debt on the meter at a higher rate. This would leave you in a worse position than before.
Note, too, that if you stop paying and you get cut off, you’ll no longer be charged for any electricity or gas but you will still be liable to the standing charge (around 46p per day for electricity and 28p per day for gas) which all customers pay regardless of how much energy they use. This is why you need to top up your prepayment meter even if you stop using electricity or gas altogether. If you don’t, the standing charges build up and you will get into debt.
Should I stop paying my energy bill?
There are long-term effects from not paying bills. If you don’t pay for the energy you use, your credit rating could also be affected.
- The missed payments could be marked as defaults on your credit report.
- Your debt could be passed onto a debt collection agency.
- Or the company could apply to a court to get a county court judgement (CCJ) against you. This order will stay on your credit reference account for six years.
If any of these things happen you could struggle to maintain a good credit rating, or even be refused lending or contracts. This can affect things like a mortgage, rent or phone contracts.
I can’t afford my energy bills. What should I do?
The first step is to engage with your supplier and pay what you can. Call or email your supplier and explain your situation. If you can, provide a meter reading.
Tell them you’re struggling to pay and ask them to pass you to the appropriate team to help you. You can then request several different options depending on your circumstances.
- You can ask for a payment plan.
- Ask for more time to pay.
- Ask to pay less for now and more later.
- Ask for a review of your account. This means you’ll get the most accurate review. A review could potentially result in an automated refunded balance or debited balance if an estimated reading has been used rather than an actual reading in the last 12 months. Suppliers aim to ‘review’ accounts automatically every year but we know this isn’t consistent. The best thing right now, good or bad, is to know what your bills should be. This helps energy advice services, like CSE, continue to accurately support the people we work with.
- Tell them if you have physical or mental health conditions and ask to be on the Priority Services Register.
- Make them aware of any young children in the household.
- Make them aware of any pension-age residents and dependants in the households.
- Lodge a formal complaint with your energy company about any meter access and supplier issues. If you have any supplier issues, either with the meter or the billing, make a complaint. Complaints count as engagement with your supplier and often place a hold on enforcement as the energy supplier must consider that the issue may be their fault. This can sometimes end in compensation, more time to pay and a written apology.
How do I contact my energy supplier?
You can contact your supplier by finding their contact number or email at the bottom of a recent bill, searching for the supplier name and ‘contact’ i.e. ‘British Gas contact’ online to find their number, email and even webchat services. Searching for WhatsApp/messenger contact options might also work as many suppliers have this facility now.
What happens if I only pay part of the bill?
If you pay what you can it’s less likely your energy company will pursue enforcement or stressful debt recovery procedures, especially if you have engaged with them.
If you’re in severe financial hardship, there’s sometimes support available from trust funds. It‘s more likely for you to be successful with this if you have been making regular payments and engaging with your supplier than if you have stopped paying altogether and ignoring bills.
How do I pay what I can?
You can arrange this if you speak to your energy supplier about a payment plan.
Options for this include:
- Setting up a standing order with the bank for a regular lower payment.
- Pay online with your debit card when you can
- Go along to the post office and pay there. If you take a recent bill or budget/magnet card to a post office, they take cash or cheque. We strongly recommend you keep paper receipts as evidence.
We know it is tempting to just cancel a direct debit or credit agreement without first speaking to your supplier, even if you intend to pay what you can. But our advice is to only cancel a direct debit if continuing with it places you in severe financial hardship. And contact your energy company as quickly as possible to let them know what’s going on and engage with them as we outline above.
What if I can’t engage or come to an agreement with my supplier?
We’ve heard stories of people waiting hours on the phone to energy suppliers to speak to someone. Some people also find they cannot reach a suitable repayment agreement with their supplier. If you cannot speak to or come to an agreement with your supplier, seek professional energy advice or debt advice to access a hold or a more flexible payment plan.
You can ask a national debt service like StepChange or National Debtline to help you access ‘breathing space’ a scheme that holds action on debt or enforcement against you for 60 days. Or you can apply for a DMP (debt management plan) which can lead to a hold request being sent by the debt service to your supplier.
Ask your local Citizens Advice consumer rights team to help you contact the supplier. They may have an agency line they use that is faster.
See if you are eligible for the Priority Services Register. Sometimes there is a PSR client phone number which is quicker.
If you are struggling to pay, see if there is a ‘struggling to pay’ number.
Use local advice services, send lots of WhatsApp and messenger messages to get their attention and send emails requesting a call back. In some cases, the advice is ‘be patient’ and call on a weekday between 9am and 10am or 4pm and 8pm when the lines are likely to have significantly shorter waiting times.
Contact an energy advice service like CSE. We keep energy supplier contacts, agency line phone numbers and can help you engage with suppliers.
What else can I do?
First look to maximise your income. If you receive any type of benefit or are on a low income, you may be entitled to more benefits like the Warm Home Discount, Winter Fuel Payment, cost of living payment, council tax reduction and more. For household support grants and council tax rebates apply with your council welfare team and council tax teams. There could also be support to reduce water tariffs too.
£15bn of benefits remain unclaimed each year including nearly £1.3bn of Carer’s Allowance. There are 850,000 people missing out on Pension Credit, while a further 3.4 million people are missing out on Attendance Allowance.
An online benefits check can take ten minutes
If you don’t have access to the internet, an advisor at CSE or another agency like Citizens Advice can help.