With the help of Citizens Advice, The Mirror helps explain all your big fuel debt questions – including what help is available
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Citizens Advice claims to have helped one person every 40 seconds with a fuel debt problem in the last quarter of 2021, 40% more than in 2020.
But what if you’re in debt with your energy supplier, you’ve fallen behind on your repayments, or you’re worried about doing so?
Here, with the help of Citizens Advice, we explain it all…
Q What happens if I am late in payment?
A First, contact your supplier, but if you do not find an initial solution with him, you can settle your debt over time thanks to a repayment plan.
The rules say it should be realistic and durable, which means you’ll pay what you can afford.
You will need to give them details of your income and expenses, your other debts and your situation.
Q What if I can’t afford the payment plan?
A Go back to your provider if you have trouble affording the negotiated refunds, as they may change them.
If you don’t, they might have you install a prepayment meter instead.
Q Are there other options available?
A It’s not ideal, but if you get certain benefits, you can deduct your debt from what you receive.
Under the Fuel Direct program, a fixed amount is automatically deducted from your benefits to cover what you owe, plus a supplement for your current usage.
To be eligible, you must be in receipt of one of the following benefits: income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income support, income-related employment and support allowance, pension credit or universal credit (but only if you are not working). The Pôle Emploi will set it up.
Q What can I do if I cannot afford to recharge my prepaid meter?
A If you run out of gas or electricity, your energy supplier should give you a temporary credit.
They can automatically add the temporary credit to your meter, while some providers will need to send someone to do this – and this may incur a charge.
Suppliers might agree to give more if they are convinced that you are vulnerable.
This helps reduce the number of prepaid customers who run out of power or “go offline” after running out of credit. You will still have to pay the money back, probably a little each time you top up your meter.
Q I have a standard meter and I am in debt, can my supplier disconnect me?
A If you have not paid a bill after 28 days, your supplier may contact you about the possibility of shutting off your gas or electricity supply. It is rare to be disconnected as your supplier will usually offer to install a prepayment meter instead.
They must give you a chance to pay off your debt through a payment plan.
Suppliers are not allowed to disconnect you between October 1 and March 31 – the coldest months – if you are a pensioner living alone or a pensioner with children under five living with you.
Six suppliers – British Gas, EDF Energy, npower, E.on, Scottish Power and SSE – have also pledged not to disconnect customers at any time of the year if they have disabilities, long-term health conditions duration, serious financial problems or young children at home.
If you can’t come to an agreement with your supplier about settling your debt, they can ask a court to obtain a warrant to enter your home in order to disconnect you.
By the way, if you have a smart energy meter, your supplier might be able to disconnect the power remotely without needing to access it.
Q What other help is available?
A You could get £140 off your electricity bill, or a £140 voucher for your prepaid meter, under the Warm Home discount scheme.
To be eligible, you must be on the secured credit portion of the pension credit or have a low income.
Plus, there’s the Winter Fuel Payment, a one-time annual payment to help pay for heating during the winter months.
You can usually get it if you were born on or before September 26, 1955.
Most major providers also provide grants if you are in debt.
The British Gas Energy Trust, for example, provides grants whether or not you are a customer.
And of course you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.