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Tackling your debts

Are energy bills leaving you out in the cold?

Posted 14 May 2015

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10% of Brits are in arrears on their water, gas or electricity account … read on if this sounds familiar to you.

Are you struggling with your energy bills? If so, you’re not alone as recent research* carried out for us shows that 4.7 million Brits say they’re regularly cut off from their pre-paid electricity and over 4 million say they often can’t afford to top up their gas meter. On top of this, 10% say they have arrears on their water, gas or electricity accounts. If keeping on top of your bills is a worry for you and you’re in arrears, it can leave you dreading the colder months, but there are things you can do.

 

Are you in arrears?

If you are, the sooner you deal with the problem, the better, as if you don’t pay, you risk being cut off. Energy suppliers have to follow certain rules when dealing with customers who are in arrears with their bills … they have to give you advice on how to pay back any money that you owe and also offer you a payment plan based on what you can afford. It’s in their best interest to get you back on track with your payments, so speaking to them shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. Disconnection is only used as a very last resort, which is why it’s important to try and tackle the problem straight ahead before it gets to that point and ensure you’re on a payment plan that you can stick to.

Are you claiming benefits?

If you’re on benefits, you can arrange to pay what you owe directly from them, so you’re not tempted to spend the money. This is called the Fuel Direct scheme and may be applicable if you’re claiming income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit.

There are also Government schemes available for vulnerable people, from free cavity wall and loft insulation to grants. You can find out more about these here.

What else can I do?

If you find yourself using more energy than you can afford, it could be a good idea to think about other ways of saving. Here are a few things you could try:

- Sign up for Direct Debits with your energy provider - Sign up for a "dual-fuel" tariff (meaning your gas and electricity come from the same supplier) - Speak to your supplier to see if you could be on a more cost effective tariff - Shop around for a better deal

Give your home the once over too … there could be ways to help stop wasting as much energy:

- Fix any leaking taps and showers … particularly the hot ones - Turn your thermostat down by a couple of degrees … you probably won’t even notice! - Turn off radiators and lights in rooms you’re not using

*OnePoll questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over between 6th March and 26th March 2015, of whom 640 were Scottish residents.

by Christine Walsh

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.