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What should I do if I’m having problems paying my energy bills because of coronavirus?

We understand that many of you are worried about paying for your energy bills, especially as spending more time at home means you’re using more gas and electricity. The energy industry is working with the Government to help households affected by the coronavirus outbreak. We look at what support is available. 

We understand that many of you are worried about paying for your energy bills, especially as spending more time at home means you’re using more gas and electricity. The energy industry is working with the Government to help households affected by the coronavirus outbreak. We look at what support is available. 

Peter Earl
From the Energy team
5
minute read
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Posted 17 SEPTEMBER 2020

Please note: The information in this article originally published in May was updated on 11 September 2020, but, because of the impact of COVID-19, things are still changing. We aim to keep this page updated as regularly as possible for you, but please check with your current energy supplier, or potential new supplier, directly to confirm any details.

What help is available from energy providers?

Early on in the crisis the Government and energy suppliers launched an emergency package, to make sure anyone vulnerable didn’t suffer hardship with heating or lighting their homes during the COVID-19 crisis.  
  
If you’re struggling to pay for your gas or electricity, you may be able to:

  • get support in reviewing bill payment plans, including debt repayment plans
  • take payment breaks or agree reductions in how much you pay
  • receive access to hardship funds
  • providers may give you more time to pay

Thankfully, the Government has reassured energy customers that no credit meters will be disconnected during the coronavirus outbreak.
 
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the deal with energy suppliers would mean “the most in need can rest assured that a secure supply of energy will continue to flow into their homes during this difficult time”.

The energy providers all suggest that if you haven’t done so already, it’s a good idea to register for an online account so you can provide up-to-date meter readings online.

They warn that you should be alert to fraudulent emails and remember that:

  • Power suppliers will never ask you for your online account password
  • Be suspicious if anyone asks you to alter bank details 

What happens if I can’t go out to top up my prepayment meter?

If you’re unable to top up your meter, you should contact your supplier as soon as possible, to discuss how you can stay connected. This includes if you can’t get to a shop because you’re ill with coronavirus or following guidance to stay at home and self-isolate or quarantine. Here are some options which could help to keep you supplied:

  • asking a friend or family member to top up your prepayment card for you
  • having discretionary funds added to your account
  • receive a preloaded top-up card in the post

In England, if you can’t leave your home because you’re self-isolating due to coronavirus, the NHS Volunteer Responders unit can help with prepayment energy meter top ups.

If your meter is outside, Ofgem recommends leaving your meter box unlocked, if this can be done safely. That means someone else can top it up for you. Where possible, arrange for a family member, friend or neighbour to take your top-up card to the shop. Please make sure it’s been sanitised first though, to avoid risk to others. 

What happens if my local shop where I usually top up is closed?

If your local top-up shop closes, you should look for an alternative vendor that has a PayPoint or Payzone facility.

The Post Office can also provide top-ups for some suppliers. Alternatively, contact your supplier, who should be able to help you.

Smart meter customers should be able to top-up remotely, for example by phone, app or online.

As the crisis has continued, Ofgem has tried to standardise and strengthen support for prepayment customers and for all customers who are struggling with paying their energy bills.

Ofgem has proposed that suppliers need to offer emergency and credit-friendly hours when top-up points are closed to prepayment customers, for example overnight. It also wants energy suppliers to offer additional credit to consumers in vulnerable circumstances, to give them extra breathing space while working out alternative arrangements to pay. These would include customers who temporarily cannot afford to top up or get to their local shop to top up because of a mobility issue, or due to the need to self-isolate.

In the past, if you took advantage of emergency or credit-friendly hours you’d usually have to repay the extra credit when you next topped up. Ofgem is now telling suppliers that they need to consider customers’ ability to pay and agree an affordable rate when customers are struggling.

Who should I contact if I can’t pay my energy bills? 

If you’re struggling to pay for your gas and electricity, you should contact your energy supplier as soon as possible. You’ll find their contact details on their website or on your bill, although please be aware that they’re receiving a high volume of calls at the moment. Some energy providers are asking their customers to only contact them with prepayment meter issues or emergencies (e.g. no heating or hot water), so please keep this in mind and perhaps check for any advice from your provider online first, if possible.

You can also check out our useful energy supplier directory to find contact details. Your provider will work with you to agree a payment plan you can afford. This might include things like spreading your bills by direct debit over the year, or the possibility of allowing 30 days' extra breathing space for making payments.
 
As well as telling you about ways you can make affordable repayments, they should also check whether you’re on the most suitable tariff. You might also be able to get a better deal by comparing energy prices and switching suppliers. Switching services are currently unaffected, so you shouldn’t have any problems if you switch to a cheaper deal.

I’m using more energy because I’m now at home all day. What can I do?

Staying at home means you’re probably using more gas and electricity than normal. There are some simple steps you can take to save energy, such as turning down the thermostat by a degree or two, only filling the kettle with the amount of water you need and making sure you put a full load in your washing machine when you do your laundry.
 
We’ve put together some great ways to help you cut down your energy usage and save on your bills. Take a look at our energy-saving tips.

I’m not working because of coronavirus. How will I pay my energy bills?

Along with the emergency energy package put in place to help support people with their bills, the Government has also set out a raft of employment and financial support for workers. This includes Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, as well as outlining your rights if your hours are cut or you’re laid off.

Will an engineer be able to come out to my home?

Throughout the pandemic you’ve been able to call out an engineer in emergencies, such as a boiler breakdown or burst pipe.

Routine appointments including annual boiler services, non-emergency repairs, meter readings, boiler installations and smart meter installations have started again. Don’t worry, the engineers and meter readers should have been trained to keep you and your household COVID-safe. Obviously, suppliers are busier than usual, trying to catch up on the backlog and are still prioritising emergency appointments, so there might be a bit of a wait for a date.

If you’re in an area facing a local lockdown, it will depend on the restrictions imposed as to whether an engineer can visit or not. If an appointment has to be cancelled, your supplier should let you know.

If you have an appointment booked but you either develop symptoms or are self-isolating in the two weeks before your appointment is due, you should cancel and reschedule.

If you or someone else in your household has COVID-19 or symptoms and an engineer visited you in the last two weeks, you need to call the power company. You’ll need to tell them the date of the visit, the names of the engineers if you know them, the address of the property, your contact details and anything else that might be helpful. All information will remain confidential.

Pledges from the Big Six energy providers

Energy suppliers are offering help to customers who may struggle to pay their bills.  Call as soon as possible to discuss your options, which might include payment plans and access to a hardship fund. Here's what the Big Six providers say:

Supplier Help available Helpline
British Gas British Gas has advised its most vulnerable prepayment customers to ask friends, family members or a neighbour to top up their meter for them if they need to self-isolate. If that’s not possible, they can access emergency credit or phone its helpline for advice. Customers who are struggling to pay bills should call to get help. Prepayment meters 0333 202 9862 
 
Customers facing hardship 0333 200 8899
EDF EDF says it has a range of measures to help those in financial difficulties, including payment plans and a hardship fund. It’s also advising prepayment customers who  have to self-isolate to ask friends and family to help them top up if it’s safe, or it can send out top-up cards or keys preloaded with credit. 0333 200 5110 
 
Or call, WhatsApp or text 07480 802942
E.ON E.ON is letting Direct Debit customers reduce their payment amount by 20% using their online account. If you’re having difficulties topping up your meter you should call to ask for help. 
E.ON can also give you £5 emergency credit if your meter alerts you about low credit, if needed.
0345 052 0000
Npower Npower says it may offer payment plans and 30 days’ extra breathing space to customers struggling to pay their bills. It also advises topping up prepayment meters more than usual in advance, if possible, or asking a trusted person to help. 0800 073 3000
Scottish Power Scottish Power says it can review monthly payments, give customers longer to pay and provide help with its hardship fund for those facing financial difficulties. It has advised prepayment customers, who need to self-isolate, to ask a friend, neighbour or family member to top up for them, and add more credit to their meter than normal. 0800 027 0072
SSE SSE is asking those struggling to pay for their energy or keep up debt repayments to call their helpline. It’s also encouraging prepayment customers to keep at least 14 days’ worth of credit on their meter in case they need to self-isolate. Where this isn’t possible, it says it can deliver cards and keys preloaded with credit to those unable to get to a shop. It can offer temporary credit if you don’t have the money to top up. Call to talk through your options. 0345 070 7373

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