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 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 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
9
minute read
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Posted 6 JANUARY 2021

Please note: The information in this article was updated on 6 January 2021 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?

The government and energy suppliers launched an emergency package early on in the crisis to make sure that anyone vulnerable didn’t suffer hardship with heating or lighting their homes.    
  
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
  • get more time to pay.

New rules set by energy regulator Ofgem came into play on 15 December 2020, seeking to further protect the country’s most vulnerable energy customers.

Due to a tightening of the voluntary agreement made with the government at the start of the crisis, energy providers are formally required to help customers in financial difficulty. This means suppliers have to offer emergency credit to customers who can’t top up their prepayment meters.

Furthermore, if customers are struggling in debt, they must be put on ‘realistic and sustainable’ repayment plans.

The measures have been put in place to create breathing space for people struggling to pay their energy bills – but ultimately, all customers will still need to pay for the energy they use.

If you know that you're going to be unable to pay your bills, you should get in touch with your energy supplier as soon as possible so that you can come to an arrangement about what to do.

Will my energy be cut off if I can’t pay my bills?

The government has reassured energy customers that no credit meters will be disconnected during the coronavirus outbreak.

If you are on a prepayment meter you can generally get emergency credit. Your supplier will try to help you find ways to keep your energy supply connected if you can’t afford it, if you are ill or are if you are self-isolating. This could include:

  • suggesting someone else top up for you
  • adding funds to your account
  • sending you a pre-loaded top-up card

You’ll still have to pay back any credit you’re given by your supplier. So make sure you ask them how and when you’ll have to do this.

Business secretary Alok Sharma said the deal with energy suppliers would mean that “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 it’s a good idea to register for an online account, if you haven’t done so already, so you can provide up-to-date meter readings online.

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

  • 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 not being able to get to a shop because you’re ill with coronavirus or following guidance to stay at home and self-isolate or quarantine.

From 15 December, suppliers have to offer emergency credit to anyone struggling to top up their prepayment meter, many of whom are likely to be in vulnerable circumstances.

Here are some options that 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, the NHS Volunteer Responders unit can help with prepayment energy meter top-ups if you can’t leave your home because you’re self-isolating due to coronavirus. You may also find that your local council has volunteers who are willing to help, so check out their website to see what’s available.

If your meter is outside, Ofgem recommends leaving the meter box unlocked – if this can be done safely – to enable someone else to 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 has been sanitised first, though, to avoid putting others at risk. 

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 with advice or emergency credit for topping up.

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

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, but 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 (eg: 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 have to work from home. What can I do?

If you’re having to work from home on a regular basis, you may be able to claim tax relief for extra household costs – including your energy bills.

This support is available to those who have to work from home due to coronavirus, and can help cover heating and metered water bills where you’re having to spend more than you usually would.

You can claim tax relief of either:

  • £6 a week (for the tax year 2020-21), without keeping evidence of the extra costs incurred
  • the exact amount of extra costs over the weekly amount, if you can provide evidence (bills, receipts, contracts etc)

Your tax relief will be based on the rate you pay tax. So, if you pay the basic 20% rate and claim on the £6 a week, you’d receive tax relief to the tune of £1.20 a week. See more on tax relief for employees working at home on the government website.

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

Staying at home – even if you’re not working – 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 that's been 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?

You’ve been able to call out an engineer in emergencies throughout the pandemic, such as if your boiler breaks down or a pipe bursts.

Routine appointments ­– including annual boiler services, non-emergency repairs, meter readings, boiler installations and smart-meter installations – are still available. Don’t worry, the engineers and meter readers should have been trained to keep you and your household COVID-safe. Suppliers are busier than usual as they're 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, check the restrictions to see 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’ll 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.

How to get in touch with the Big Six energy providers

See how to get in touch with the Big Six providers, if you need to. If it’s possible for you, you might find it easier and quicker to contact your supplier online rather than calling – so it may be worth checking their website first to see what they advise.

And remember, if you’re worried about what to say when you contact your supplier you may want to get some free debt advice from experts used to dealing with this kind of situation.

Supplier Helpline
British Gas Prepayment meters: 0333 202 9862 
 
Customers facing hardship: 0333 200 8899
EDF Call: 0333 200 5110 
 
Call, WhatsApp or text: 07480 802942
E.ON Call: 0345 052 0000
Npower Call: 0800 073 3000
Scottish Power Call: 0800 027 0072
SSE Call: 0345 070 7373

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