If you need help with energy bills, support is available. Here’s what you need to know
More and more of us will be finding that we need help with energy bills now the higher energy price cap is in effect. Energy bills are rising quickly as the war in Ukraine adds to the supply and demand issues. And because gas and electricity are necessities, it is households on low incomes who are suffering the most. Energy bills are swallowing an ever-increasing chunk of their income. It’s unsurprising that more and more people are worrying about how much their energy bills will cost.
The Fuel Bank Foundation, a national fuel poverty charity, says it has seen a 75% increase in the number of people needing its support in the past 12 months. Matthew Cole, chair of trustees at the Fuel Bank Foundation, says: “Before war in Ukraine broke out, the future already looked bleak for millions of households in the UK struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and soaring energy bills. As a result of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and the impact this is having on surging gas and oil prices, we have revised our forecast and unfortunately the figures are even more shocking.”
Do I qualify for help with energy bills from the government?
There are several ways people can get help with their energy bills from the government – which we have listed below. Some are available to everyone, while others are targeted at people who meet certain criteria. Dennis Hussey, money adviser at National Debtline, says: “Energy arrears is now the most common type of debt we are hearing about at National Debtline. With energy prices continuing to rise, and with further increases to bills on their way, it is important to make sure you are receiving any support you are entitled to.”
Energy bill rebate
The government announced in February that all domestic electricity customers will get £200 off their energy bills this year. The discount will be automatically applied to bills by your supplier from October. However, this is not a handout – it’s a loan. The money needs to be repaid via a £40 a year surcharge on bills for five years, starting in 2023. The scheme is compulsory – you can’t opt-out.
Council tax credit
Households in England in council tax bands A to D will also receive a £150 rebate on their council tax bills. The idea is people will put this money toward their energy bills. There is no need to do anything. If your property is eligible, your local authority will apply the credit to your council tax bill from April. Unlike the bill rebate, this money doesn’t need to be repaid.
Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount gives eligible households £140 off their electricity bill during the winter each year. You’ll be eligible if you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit. You’ll also be eligible if you’re on a low income and meet your energy supplier’s criteria. You will need to be with a supplier who is signed up to the scheme to get the discount. Not all are.
If you’re eligible, you will receive the discount in one of two ways between October and March each year. Your supplier will either apply a £140 discount to your energy account or give you £140 in prepayment vouchers. Check with your supplier for more details.
Winter Fuel Payment
If you were born on or before 26 September 1955 you could get a Winter Fuel Payment. This is between £100 and £300 each year to help you pay your heating bills. You’ll be eligible for this money if you get the State Pension or certain other benefits. How much you will get depends on your age and who you live with. The payment is automatic, so you don’t need to make a claim.
Can I get help with energy bills from my supplier?
If you’re worried about paying your energy bills, you may be able to get help from your energy supplier. Rules set by Ofgem, the regulator, mean suppliers must offer affordable payment plans. Prepayment customers can ask for ‘emergency credit’ if they run out. Some energy suppliers, such as British Gas, Scottish Power, Ovo Energy, E.ON and EDF Energy, offer grants to vulnerable customers to pay off energy debts. This money won’t need to be repaid.
Money advisor Dennis Hussey told us, “They will have to take into account your circumstances and may be able to help, through measures such as a short-term payment break or by reducing your payments. Your supplier can also provide advice on accessing financial support that may be available. This could include benefits you may be entitled to or grants that could pay towards energy debt.”
In most cases, you’ll only be able to get a grant from your own supplier. The exception is the British Gas Energy Trust which offers grants for both British Gas customers and customers of other energy suppliers. You usually need to have sought professional debt advice and have a plan about how you will manage your energy costs in the future to be eligible.
Your energy supplier might also offer grants to make your home more energy-efficient. For example, installing roof and cavity wall insulation or upgrading your boiler could reduce your heating bill.
Can I get help with gas and electricity on Universal Credit?
You might be eligible for the Warm Home Discount and/or the Cold Weather Payment if you receive Universal Credit. For the Warm Home Discount, your Universal Credit payment needs to include an element for being on a low income. Each energy supplier has different criteria, so you’ll need to contact your energy provider to see if you’re eligible.
The Cold Weather Payment gives you £25 for each seven-day period between 1 November and 31 March when the average temperature in your area was recorded as, or forecast to be, 0°C or below.
If you’re on Universal Credit, it’s also worth checking if there are other benefits you might be entitled to. According to Entitledto.com, more than £15 billion in benefits is unclaimed by low-income households each year in the UK. You could be entitled to extra support if you have a baby, suffer from a long-term health condition, provide care for another person, or earn a low income.
If you’re on Universal Credit, you could also reduce your other bills and put the savings towards your energy costs. For example, there are cheap broadband and mobile phone deals only available to people on Universal Credit.
Can I get a fuel voucher?
If you have a prepayment energy meter and can’t afford to top it up, you may be able to get a £49 fuel voucher from the Fuel Bank Foundation. The charity operates more than 140 Fuel Bank centres across the country. It does this in partnership with advice agencies and food banks charities. The idea is that emergency prepay credit will stop people from being forced to ‘self-disconnect’ because they can’t afford to top up their energy meter.
To be eligible, recipients must be in need of food support and have been deemed as in ‘crisis need’ by an independent referrer. Bodies such as Citizens Advice, your GP or a social worker can refer you for a food or fuel voucher.
What can I do if I can’t afford gas or electricity?
If you can’t afford gas or electricity, don’t panic – you’re not alone. Research by Citizen’s Advice predicts that about five million people will be unable to afford their energy bills now that the cap has gone up. First of all, contact your supplier, as it’s legally obliged to try and help you. Ofgem rules mean suppliers must offer payment plans you can afford. You can ask for emergency credit if you can’t afford to top up your prepayment meter.
Those with prepayment meters could also ask to be switched to a standard meter, which will be cheaper. Your supplier can do this for free. Having a standard meter will also give you access to a much wider range of tariffs when the energy market returns to a normal state.
Sue Anderson of debt charity StepChange says: “The dramatic rise in energy prices this year is understandably causing worry and it’s not surprising that many people, particularly those on lower incomes are finding their bills unaffordable. It’s important to not wait to get help if you’re struggling to pay.
“Firstly, contact your supplier to let them know as you might be able to come to an agreement about repayments, or there may be sources of support available. If you’re in arrears on your energy bills, StepChange can offer free, comprehensive, and impartial debt advice including guidance on budgeting and spending which will help you figure out the best route to get your finances back on track.”
How to reduce your energy bill
There are numerous ways you can reduce your energy bill. Paying by direct debit is cheaper. Energy suppliers like customers who pay by direct debit, since these are reliable and cheap for them to manage. Paying quarterly on the receipt of your bill can cost up to £130 a year more.
You can also reduce your energy bill by using less energy. Simple energy-saving tips include:
turning down the thermostat by 1°C
taping a panel of tin foil behind radiators
and only boiling a kettle once a day.
Make sure you always turn off the light when you leave a room and don’t leave these power-hungry appliances on standby.
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