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Utility Debt Services
Do you need help with utility debt?
Everyone needs gas, electricity and water – your utilities are what keep your household going and your family living in comfort. But it’s easy for unpaid water, fuel or phone bills to spiral out of control.
What are utility bills?
‘Utilities’ are an umbrella term for the things you need to keep your home running smoothly and your family living comfortably. The main bills considered as utilities include:
As well as the likes of gas and electricity, utilities can also cover heating, telephone lines, and internet connections. People usually pay their utility bills monthly and can either pay a fixed price to their energy supplier or pay an amount based on their energy usage.
In Scotland, your water costs are included in your council tax bill. However, if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you will have to pay all of these separately.
Common causes of utility bill debt
People get into debt with their utility bills for many reasons. Below we’ve listed a few of the most common causes of debt from utilities.
Utility companies upping their prices
Gas and electricity companies are upping prices and bills all the time. Your energy supplier might increase your bill without you realising, which can result in you receiving a high bill at the end of the month that you can’t afford to pay.
Energy price hikes are particularly difficult if you’re a pensioner or on low income, as you might not have the flexibility in your finances to be able to pay your energy bills.
Mistakes from the energy supplier
Your energy bills are based on what your supplier thinks you’ll use throughout the year. If you’re using more gas, electricity or water companies initially think, you can end up with energy debt – not paying enough for their usage and being sent the bill for the difference later on.
Seasonal surges in gas and electricity bills
Living in Britain, our weather is unpredictable. People tend to use their utilities more during cold weather, rainy days, and sudden snowstorms, meaning your bill can easily end up costing more than you expected.
Can the government help you pay for gas or electricity?
Depending on your circumstances, there are schemes in place to help people pay for household bills they might otherwise find themselves struggling to pay. These schemes are usually aimed at people on a low income or who are relying on state benefits.
You may be eligible for support with energy payments if you are involved in any of the following:
- Universal credit
- Pension credit
- Income support
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income-related employment and support allowance
What if I can’t pay my utility bills?
Gas and electricity bills are priorities because if you miss payments to them and fall into arrears, your provider could eventually cut off your supply.
This means that gas and electricity bills should normally be paid before you consider making payments to unsecured debts such as credit or store cards, payday loans, catalogues or overdrafts.
Water companies don’t have the same powers to cut off your supply, but it’s still important to keep up with your regular water payments and deal with any outstanding water arrears.
If you can’t come to an agreement with your supplier about repaying your debt, or you’re not happy with the option they’ve given you, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline for advice. If you’re struggling with debt problems, contact a debt advisor who can give you free financial advice and see if you qualify for a debt Management Plan.
Agree on a payment plan with your supplierTell your supplier that you want to pay off your debts in instalments as part of a payment plan. You’ll pay fixed amounts over a set period of time, meaning you’ll pay what you can afford. The payment plan will cover what you owe plus an amount for your current use. Your supplier must take into account:
- How much you can afford to pay – give them details about your income and outgoings, debts and personal circumstances
- How much energy you’ll use in future – they’ll estimate this based on your past usage, but give them regular meter readings to make this more accurate
If you can’t afford the payment planSpeak to your supplier again if you think they’re charging you too much or you’re struggling to afford the repayments. You can try to negotiate a better deal. If you don’t, your supplier might make you have a prepayment meter installed.
Pay off your debt through your benefitsYou might be able to repay your debt directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme. A fixed amount will automatically be taken from your benefits to cover what you owe, plus an extra amount for your current use. It can be more convenient than having a prepayment meter fitted (which your supplier might try to do if you can’t agree on a payment plan) and you won’t risk running out of gas or electricity. To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:
- Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income Support
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)
Seek debt adviceIf you’re not able to agree on a payment plan with your supplier, or you don’t stick to a plan you previously agreed to, your supplier might try to force you to have a prepayment meter installed. In very rare cases your supplier might threaten you with disconnection. If you can’t come to an agreement with your supplier about repaying your debt, or you’re not happy with the option they’ve given you, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline for advice. If you’re struggling with debt problems, contact a debt advisor, like IVA Advice, who can give you free financial advice and see if you qualify for a Debt Management Plan.
Extra help with energy bills
There are a number of energy companies that offer grants and schemes that are open to anyone – you don’t have to be a customer.
If you’re disabled, elderly or you get benefits, check whether you can get other help paying your energy bills.
Many utility providers are offering additional support to help customers who are having financial difficulties caused by Covid- 19. These include:
- Reducing or pausing your energy bills
- Reassessing your energy arrears
There are also other sources of help available such as grants and financial assistance schemes that can help you if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills.
Making a complaint about an energy supplier
If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly by your energy supplier, you can raise a complaint with them by following their complaints process.
If this is unsuccessful, you can raise your issue with Ombudsman Services. There’s no charge for doing this and they’ll review the evidence before making an impartial decision.