Households in arrears on their utility bills need to seek help to stop a disconnection. They can contact their energy provider to enter in to a short term payment arrangement, or they can agree to a plan to pay off the arrears on their gas or electric bills over several months. Another option provided my most fuel suppliers is a prepayment meter, and all of these can be combined in an effort to keep the heat and electricity on.
If a person is not comfortable in ringing their energy company on their own to negotiate, they can call the Home Heat Helpline or Citizens Advice Bureau for advice and help with this. In some cases specialists from these organisations can partner with the customer as they seek a payment arrangement from their provider.
Time is of the essence. Households that are on a low income or struggling need to try to resolve the problem so they are no longer at risk of having their heat or electricity cut off. The energy arrears should be addressed before many other types of unpaid bills or debts. If it is not, the service could be cut off, and in some years about 10,000 vulnerable people die due to lack of heat in their home. To start the process, ring your supplier, and the telephone for the big six suppliers are below.
- British Gas – telephone 0800 048 0202.
- EDF Energy – Customer support is at 0800 056 7777.
- E.ON UK – Phone 0333 2024 606 for information on programmes.
- N Power – Enquires can be made by ringing 0800 073 3000.
- ScottishPower – Telephone 0800 027 0072.
- SSE – Enquires on payment arrangements can be made by ringing 0800 980 9649.
Types of plans and arrangements from suppliers
The central government in the UK requires that all companies follow rules and conditions in place when dealing with low income households and those in fuel poverty, and this means they need to try to work with customers to prevent a shut off of power. This is even more important for seniors, lone parents and the disabled during the winter months, as their health and safety could be at risk without heat.
People need to request and apply for help. After an assessment is done on their financial conditions, the family should create a budget of their income and outgoings, and based on this, the left over money is what they can afford for their arrears. People need to be offered some type of assistance for any gas or electric arrears from their fuel provider, and this is a central government requirement.
Offering some type of solution is required by the licence conditions in the UK. Also, the government requires the monthly amount of a payment plan to take into account the person’s income income and ability to pay the bills, so the rate should be affordable.
Payment plans or monthly installments can be agreed to as one option, and this will often be recommended by CAB. In most cases the customer will need to pay their current utility bills each month using a credit meter. Then the arrears on their other heating costs or electric bills can be paid over time.
The terms of the payment plan will vary based on income and other factors. Some energy providers will give people weeks to pay the arrears, and others will provide months. So needy households have additional time. Also, the amount to be paid on the energy arrears and that is afford from the supplier as well as agreed to by the customer should be affordable.
One or two month arrangements can be set up. This is best for people with a one off, temporary crisis or that may be waiting on benefits or a cheque. The short term payment arrangement allows the person to pay the energy bill arrears in small installments, and it needs to be paid in full before the next bill arrives from the supplier. This is not recommend in most cases by CAB as the person has very little time to pay.
Families on benefits or welfare can use those government funds for paying an utility bill arrears, and this is also called third party deduction. The payment for this type of arrangement will need to be made monthly, and the amount will be automatically deduced from the benefit payments. To make this arrangement, the Jobcentre Plus needs to enroll the individual.
In order to enter this payment plan, the eligible benefits include Pension Credit for seniors, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or the Jobseeker’s Allowance. A vulnerable person receiving those types financial aid from Department for Work and Pensions can use them for their heating or electric bill arrears.
Payment plans and additional assistance is required for the vulnerable. This is for the disabled, those that are ill, older, or facing an exception financial circumstance. Fuel providers need to offer the vulnerable additional support on any electricity bill arrears as well as heating costs that are owed. Also, local Citizens Advice Bureaus can help these individuals to ensure they are treated fairly, and there is also a helpline to ring for free advice.
When agreeing to an installment or some other arrangement, if the customer does not make all the payments on time, then a prepayment meter may be installed. This is a last resort offered by suppliers in order to stop the disconnection.
Using this meter, in order to keep the gas or even heat on, the family needs to pay the bill up front using a smart card or token, and it is a credit type system. They can still pay some of the arrears each month too, and both cash can be used for that or the individual can use benefits for arrears. This prepayment meter be the only option left to keep the supply of gas and stop a disconnection.
For more information on payment arrangements and other plans, people should call their fuel supplier directly. If they are not comfortable in doing this or are not treated fairly, then the Citizens Advice helpline can be ringed at 0845 404 0506 or the Home Heat Helpline at 0800 33 66 99. Specialists from these charities will help the low income and vulnerable apply for help with arrears from their fuel supplier, with the aim of preventing a disconnection.