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Tackling your debts

How to get help paying gas and electricity bills

Posted 05 July 2013

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Paying your gas and electricity bills can be a struggle, but there is help out there for people who are falling behind with payments.

With the ever-rising cost of fuel and winters that seem to last a lifetime, it's no wonder so many of us are struggling with our energy bills.

If you're having difficulty trying to make payments on time, the most important thing to do is to contact your provider. Burying your head in the sand and waiting for things to blow over isn't the right solution, but getting advice as soon as possible will help to alleviate any stresses or worries you might have.

Some energy providers in the UK offer grants to their customers who are struggling, and all of the major six (British Gas, EDF Energy, E-ON, npower, Scottish Power and SSE) offer free advice should you come into any issues.

If you claim benefits or have a low income, you may also be eligible for free home improvements such as a new boiler or loft insulation, both of which can help to reduce your bills.

The key thing to remember is: if paying your energy bill is starting to become a worry, there's always help and advice available. Fuel poverty is a common issue and energy providers are usually sympathetic and understanding if you're genuinely struggling.

 

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What kinds of grants are available?

Certain energy providers offer a grant to customers who are struggling to clear their energy debts. British Gas, EDF Energy and npower all offer a grant to those in exceptionally difficult circumstances, and you can find out if you qualify by simply contacting them or filling in an application form online.

The six leading energy suppliers in the UK are also obliged to offer free boiler replacements, wall insulation and loft insulation to some people who are claiming benefits or have a low income. These changes to your home can help to save hundreds of pounds over the long term by using energy more efficiently.

Many energy suppliers could also install a prepayment meter in your property. This works via loading money onto a 'prepay' card at certain shops and post offices, and inserting it into the meter to keep an eye on how much you're spending on energy bills. A prepayment meter could help you to manage your debt and energy usage and prevent large, unexpected bills. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for energy suppliers to charge you for fitting a prepayment meter, and it usually costs more to purchase your energy in this way. Having to load cash onto a card at certain shops can also be an inconvenience - especially if there are no 'PayPoint' or 'PayZone' locations nearby.

 

Although not all energy providers offer grants to their customers, free advice is readily available and easy to access. If you feel like you're struggling to pay your gas and electric bills, seeking out advice from your energy provider is your first port of call.

How long will they let me stay in arrears?

On the whole, energy providers are sympathetic when it comes to customers who are struggling to pay their utility bills. This means that they are often quite lenient and are willing to come to some sort of reasonable solution for you, whether that is changing your tariff to a cheaper alternative or drawing up a new payment plan.

 

It's difficult to say how long each individual provider will allow you to stay in arrears for, but if you are genuinely struggling to pay your bills on time, they will take reasonable steps to try and get you back on track. Cutting off your electricity or gas is a last resort and will only ever be done if you ignore a company's attempts to contact you regarding payment.

Whatever your debt issue, there is always help available

Having significant debt in other areas such as credit card loans and store cards could be leading you to worry about paying your energy bill. If the pressure from your debts is stopping you from being able to afford to pay your utilities, you may want to seek out financial advice to get back on track.

 

The Debt Advisory Centre offers a range of debt solutions, such as debt management, debt consolidation and Individual Voluntary Arrangements - follow the links below to find out more.

by Sarah Symons

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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.