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Tackling your debts

I'm struggling with my utility bills: who can help?

Posted 19 April 2013

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There is help available in Scotland if your gas or electricity provider is threatening to cut you off because you're in arrears. This guide suggests a number of organisations that could help you with your utility arrears, so you can avoid being cut off.

Being in utility arrears can be really worrying. Not only are you watching the amount you owe mount up - you also have the added risk of your energy company cutting off your service. Even if you haven't received any threats, you may still be worried about the power your energy provider has, and what they can do about your arrears.
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If you're in this situation, don't panic. First of all, your fuel supplier would have to send you a disconnection notice before they could cut you off. And they're not likely to cut you off as long as you can pay something towards your arrears.

Plus, there are a number of different sources of help available for people in Scotland who are struggling with their utility bills. Try getting in touch with one of the following to see whether they could help you:

Your energy company


This is the first organisation you should contact if you can't afford to pay your energy arrears. Before you contact them, have a good look over your budget and see how much you can afford to pay towards your energy arrears on top of your ongoing usage. Propose this payment to your lenders.

They should be willing to offer you a new payment plan based on what you can afford to pay. This payment plan will include your day-to-day usage and your arrears.

You may have to let them fit a prepayment meter in your house. Although this can be more costly than paying by Direct Debit, it will allow you to pay for your usage and your arrears as you go (as your arrears can also be paid off through the meter). Your energy provider will get 'off your case' as they will know you're paying for what you use and what you owe too.

The Energy Saving Trust


The Affordable Warmth Scheme in Scotland is run by the Energy Saving Trust. Under the Scheme, energy companies can make eligible people's homes more energy efficient - for free.

Having a more energy-efficient home could save you a lot of money on your utility bills, which will give you more room in your budget to tackle your arrears.

Click here to see whether this applies to you.

If you call the Energy Saving Trust on 0800 512 012 they can check whether there's anything you're eligible for. They can also tell you about any discounts or cheaper tariffs available from your energy supplier.

Jobcentre Plus


There is a scheme available for Scottish people on income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Pension Credit - it's called fuel direct. This scheme allows you to pay your fuel arrears straight from your benefits.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will fix the amount that comes out of your benefits towards your utility arrears. This way, you don't even really have to think about your utility arrears, as they're being paid off automatically. It should stop hassle from your energy provider too, as they know they'll get what they're owed whenever you receive your benefits.

This is often seen as a cheaper and more convenient alternative to getting a prepayment meter fitted.

You should get in touch with Jobcentre Plus and your supplier if you want to arrange fuel direct.

A charitable organisation


There are a number of charitable organisations that can discuss your situation with you and tell you what your options are, including:


Debt Advisory Centre Scotland


Contacting one or more of these organisations could help you to tackle your utility arrears, get back on track with your bills and avoid being cut off.

However, this may not be enough if you also have other problem debts getting in the way of your utility bill payments. These problem debts can include credit cards, personal loans, overdrafts and store cards.

Getting the right debt help from an organisation like Debt Advisory Centre Scotland can reduce your monthly debt repayments to a level you can afford, leaving enough room in your budget for you to meet your utility bills, arrears payments and other important monthly commitments.

It's important to seek professional advice to find out whether this is the right approach for you - and make sure you understand any downsides - before you commit yourself to anything

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.