Dealing with high gas and electricity bills
This fact sheet covers England & Wales. We also have a version for Scotland if you need it.
Millions of households are facing increased gas and electricity bills because of the energy price crisis. Many people are concerned about their finances and how they will keep warm and afford their energy bills. This fact sheet provides information on the support that is available and offers advice on how you can try to make your living costs more manageable.
Use this fact sheet to:
- learn what support is available if you are struggling with your energy bills;
- understand what a deficit budget is; and
- find out what you can do if you can’t afford to cover essential costs.
Contact your energy supplier
If you are struggling to pay your energy bills or you have already fallen behind with payments, get in touch with your supplier as soon as possible. Your supplier has a range of options to help you. The support they may be able to offer you will depend on your situation. Examples of help include:
- a short-term payment break or a reduction in your payments;
- advice on accessing financial support that may be available, like benefits you may be entitled to or grants that could pay towards energy debt; and
- energy efficiency advice.
If you pay by direct debit, you can ask your supplier to explain how your direct debit payment has been worked out. Your supplier may be able to reduce the direct debit if:
- it is currently based on an over-estimate of how much energy you use in a year (see Taking meter readings below); or
- it includes an amount to repay a debt to your supplier.
If you are in arrears, your supplier should work with you to set up a repayment plan that is affordable to you. For more information, see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.
Taking meter readings
If your bill is based on estimated readings, your supplier could be charging you too much if their estimate is higher than your actual usage. Keep your energy bills as accurate as possible by regularly taking meter readings and sending them to your supplier. If your bill is based on an estimated reading that is too low, providing a meter reading will increase your bill.
If you have been paying for more energy than you have used, your energy account may be in credit. You can ask your supplier for a partial or full refund if you are in credit, but you should consider whether reducing the credit balance will make it difficult to pay your energy bills in colder months. If your supplier refuses to give you a refund, they must explain why they think it is reasonable to hold onto the credit.
For information on how to read your meter, see the Citizens Advice webpage How to read your gas or electricity meter.
If you are not able to physically take a meter reading, your supplier may be able to offer you extra help. See the Priority services register information in our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.
Smart meters are a newer type of gas and electricity meter that can send automatic meter readings to your supplier. Bills can be more accurate if you have a smart meter because automatic meter readings mean that your supplier does not have to estimate how much energy you have used.
Smart meters also come with an in-home display, which is a device that shows you how much energy you are using and how much it is costing you in pounds and pence. The information from an in-home display may also help you to identify how you can reduce your energy usage to save money.
Over the next few years, suppliers will have to offer a free smart meter to all of their customers. If you do not have a smart meter already, you can contact your supplier to ask if they will install one for you now.
The Smart Energy GB website has more information about smart meters and their benefits.
Smart meters if you rent your home
You can choose to have a smart meter if you are named on the bill. However, you should check your tenancy agreement to see if there are any rules about the type of meter that can be installed in the property. You may need your landlord’s permission before having a smart meter installed.
If you already have a smart meter
Some smart meters have temporarily stopped working in ‘smart mode’. This means that they are not sending automatic meter readings to suppliers.
If you have a smart meter, use the Citizens Advice smart meter check tool to see if your meter is working in ‘smart mode’. If it isn’t, you should send regular meter readings to your supplier to make sure that you are billed accurately while your meter is not working in smart mode.
You should speak to your supplier if you have a prepayment meter and your credit is running low or has run out.
Your supplier may be able to offer you a fuel voucher. A fuel voucher is a code that can be used to add credit to your gas or electricity prepayment meter. Fuel vouchers can usually be redeemed at Post Offices and outlets with PayPoint or Payzone services. You will not have to repay any credit you get through a fuel voucher.
When you speak to your supplier, let them know if you are in financial difficulty and explain if there is anything about your circumstances that makes you vulnerable. There are a wide range of reasons you could be in a vulnerable situation, for example, having a low income, living with a physical or mental health issue or living in a cold energy-inefficient home. Your supplier may offer you an additional support credit to help keep you on supply.
Most prepayment meters also have functions built in to provide:
- emergency credit, which provides a small amount of credit in emergency situations where you cannot top up your meter; and
- friendly-hours credit, which allows you to access a small amount of credit at times when top-up points are likely to be closed (this is usually evenings, weekends and bank holidays).
If you do not know how to access the emergency or friendly-hours credit functions, contact your supplier.
You will have to repay any additional support, emergency or friendly-hours credit that you are given. Discuss with your supplier how the credit will be repaid. Your supplier must consider your ability to pay when agreeing a repayment plan with you. For more information, see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.
Help with the cost of energy
The government has announced the following support to help households with rising energy bills.
Energy Price Guarantee. If you are on your supplier’s standard variable tariff, the government has announced an Energy Price Guarantee that will limit how much your supplier can charge you for each unit of energy.
From 1 October 2022, a household paying by direct debit and using 2,900 kWh of electricity and 12,000 kWh of gas will pay £2,500 per year. Without the guarantee, this would have been £3,549 per year and was predicted to rise further. The guarantee will be in place for two years.
The exact amount you pay will depend on how much energy you use.
If you are on a fixed-term contract that charges more than the Energy Price Guarantee, your supplier should reduce your bills by up to 17p per kWh for electricity and 4.2p per kWh for gas. You can ask your supplier if it would be cheaper for you to cancel the fixed-term contract and move onto their standard variable tariff. If you do consider cancelling a fixed-term contract, check if you will be charged a penalty to exit. Your supplier can’t charge an exit fee if you cancel a contract within 14 days of signing up to it.
For more information, see GOV.UK.
Energy Bills Support Scheme. All households with an electricity connection in England, Scotland and Wales will receive a £400 discount to help with the rising cost of energy. It will be spread over six months and the first payment will be made in October 2022. The discount will not have to be repaid.
Although you do not have to apply for the discount, you will need to take action to add it to your meter if you are on a traditional prepayment meter. You will be sent a voucher by text message, email or post that can be redeemed at your usual top-up point.
For other types of meter, the discount may be provided through a reduction to your direct debit, a refund to your bank account or by applying a credit to your electricity account or smart prepayment meter.
For more information, see GOV.UK.
Household Support Fund (England). If you live in England, you may be able to receive a small grant to to support with energy bills. Contact your local council to check if you may be eligible.
Winter Fuel Support Scheme (Wales). Under this scheme, you may be eligible for a one-off payment of £200 if you are in receipt of certain benefits. If you are eligible, you will need to apply to your local council for the payment. Applications open on 26 September 2022.
For more information, including full eligibility criteria, see GOV.Wales.
Discretionary support scheme (Wales). The government in Wales has made £25 million available to councils to provide support to households struggling with the rising costs of living. This discretionary fund may be able to help you with heating costs. Contact your local council for details of their scheme and how to apply.
Warm Home Discount
You can check GOV.UK to see if your supplier takes part in the Warm Home Discount Scheme. The Warm Home Discount applies a one-off £140 discount to your energy bill between October and March. There are two ways to qualify for a Warm Home Discount, by meeting the criteria for a ‘core group’ or a ‘broader group’
You should automatically receive this discount by 31 March 2022 if your supplier takes part in the scheme and on 4 July 2021:
- you or your partner were named on the energy bill; and
- you or your partner were getting the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit.
If you meet the above criteria but have not yet had the discount or a letter confirming that you will, contact the Warm Homes Discount helpline on 0800 731 0214 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm).
The Warm Home Discount is also available to some people on a low income or if you get certain benefits. Each electricity supplier participating in the Warm Home Discount Scheme decides the eligibility criteria for the broader group and you have to apply for the discount if you meet the criteria.
All electricity suppliers have stopped taking applications for the winter 2021-22 Warm Home Discount for the broader group. You can find more information on the Warm Home Discount Scheme on GOV.UK. There are plans to increase the Warm Home Discount to £150 and to extend the eligibility criteria for winter 2022-23. We will update this fact sheet when more information is published.
Winter Fuel Payment
The Winter Fuel Payment is a one-off, tax-free payment of between £100 and £300 that is made during the winter to help with heating costs if you are eligible for the payment. For winter 2022-23 only, this payment will be topped up with a Pensioner Cost of Living Payment of between £150 to £300.
You may be eligible for the payment if you were born on or before 25 September 1956.
The payment is normally made in November or December. It is usually paid automatically to anyone who is eligible, but in some circumstances you may have to apply for the payment.
For more information, see GOV.UK.
Cold Weather Payment
The Cold Weather Payment is a £25 payment made for each seven-day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March. If you are eligible, the payment will be made when the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below over seven consecutive days.
To be eligible for this payment, you need to be getting certain benefits. For full eligibility criteria, see GOV.UK.
Cold Weather Payments are usually made automatically. However, you must make sure you tell Jobcentre Plus if you are getting income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support and:
- you or your partner have a baby; or
- a child under five comes to live with you.
If Jobcentre Plus is not informed of the change, you might not automatically get the Cold Weather Payment.
Trust funds and charities
You may be able to get a grant from a charitable fund to pay off energy debts. You can ask your supplier if they have any funds or schemes that can help you, or you can contact us for advice.
There may be other charities that can help you with your energy bills. Turn2us can try to find charities that may be able to help you. You can do a search on the Turn2us website for a grant.
Free energy saving advice
The Simple Energy Advice website provides free, impartial information and guidance on how to save energy. It also has a search tool where you can search for financial support for national and local schemes that may be able to help. For example, there may be schemes that can provide you with free installation of energy efficiency measures in your home.
You can call Simple Energy Advice on 0800 444 202 (Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and weekends 9am to 5pm).
If you are a homeowner, you can also use an online service on GOV.UK to get recommendations for home improvements that could make your property cheaper to heat and keep warm.
Ten top tips for saving energy
Take a look at the Energy Saving Trust’s top ten tips for saving energy to see if you can do anything else to lower your bills.
What is a deficit budget?
You may find that rising energy prices push you into a deficit budget. You have a deficit budget if the money you need to spend each month on living costs is higher than the money you receive each month from work and benefits.
Consider essential costs only
A deficit budget means not having enough money to pay for essentials such as your home, food or travel to work. Do not include debt repayments at this point, just essential living costs. Debt payments are paid after essential household bills. Does your income cover your household bills if you don’t pay any debts?
If you are worried about not being able to meet your debt repayments, see the later section Unable to make a payment.
One impact of having a deficit budget can be that you start to rely on credit to top up your income. For example, you may find that you are using a credit card, going further into an overdraft, or asking friends or family for help. If you remain in a deficit budget situation, your debt levels will keep increasing and eventually it may not be possible to borrow any more money.
A deficit budget can also mean you cannot afford to pay for essential bills like your mortgage, rent, or gas and electricity.
Missing essential household bills
Your home or essential services could be at risk if you miss payments on household bills. Contact us for advice if you are struggling to make payments on your bills or if you have already missed some payments.
A deficit budget can also stop you from being able to put money aside for one-off bills such as car repairs, house maintenance or emergencies like a washing machine breakdown.
Completing a budget sheet
You can complete a personal budget sheet using the Your budget tool on our website.
The budget sheet is split into fixed costs and flexible costs. Fixed costs are items such as mortgage or rent, council tax, gas, electricity, water and insurances. Flexible costs include spending on food, clothing, hairdressing, socialising, meals at work and pocket money.
Paper budget sheet
Call us if you need us to send you a paper version of the budget sheet.
Take time to complete your budget sheet and think about whether it is accurate. For example, if a family member pays something for you, make adjustments for this in the budget sheet. Make sure you are realistic, even if you are spending more than you have coming in. Don’t be tempted to stop putting figures into the budget sheet just because it shows you are spending more than your income. You need to work out what you need to spend and what you would like to budget for. Once you have done this you can start to look at where you might be able to make changes.
If you have a debt such as a county court judgment (CCJ) or a magistrates’ court fine that is up to date, you need to add it to the budget. Not paying could have serious consequences. Contact us for advice if you cannot afford the payments you are required to make. You can also find more information in our Varying a CCJ fact sheet and our Magistrates’ court fines fact sheet.
If you have other priority debts with a payment plan in place, these payment arrangements may also need to be changed. Contact us for advice if this affects you.
Some people do not get all of the income they are entitled to. This makes it harder to afford living costs. There are a number of ways you may be able to increase your income.
- Check if you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to. You can look at GOV.UK or Turn2us for benefits calculators that you can use. If you are in Wales, Advicelink Cymru can help you check and claim benefits that you may be entitled to. For contact details, see Useful contacts towards the end of this fact sheet.
- Can you increase your hours at work or get any overtime?
- If you don’t work, can you look for work, either part-time or full-time? If you have a part-time job, could you ask for more hours or look for a second part-time job? Could your partner look for some work? Are there any other members of the household, such as adult children, who can contribute? Can they contribute more than they do now?
- If you have a spare room, could you rent it to a lodger? The government has a Rent a Room Scheme that allows you to earn some income from a lodger tax free. The Citizens Advice website has information on important points to consider if you are thinking about taking in a lodger, such as whether you need permission and the possible impact on insurance and benefits.
Impact on benefits
If you are receiving any benefits, check whether taking on extra work or a lodger will affect your benefit entitlement.
Reducing living costs can be difficult to do. You need to think carefully about this. Ask yourself if you can really live on the amounts you decide to set for yourself. Think about how long you need to live on a reduced budget and ask yourself if it is realistic to manage for so long with lower spending.
Reducing your flexible costs
- Can you reduce how much you spend on clothing? Don’t be tempted to remove this figure from the budget completely as you are likely to need some clothing or footwear in the long run. If you have children, remember they may need school uniforms too. See GOV.UK for information on getting help with the cost of school uniforms.
- Can you take food from home to eat at work rather than buying food at work?
- Can you reduce your food and toiletries bill by shopping around?
- Can you reduce your smoking costs? Your GP may be able to help with this. The NHS has a Quit Smoking website and mobile app that can help.
- Make sure you are not paying for health costs that you could get reduced or free. If you live in England, see the NHS website. In Wales the situation is slightly different, and the information is on the Welsh Government website.
- Use price comparison websites to shop around for cheaper car and home insurance.
- Look for the best mobile phone, TV and internet deals. If you get certain benefits, you may be eligible for a social tariff which offers reduced prices for broadband and some landline services. For information on social tariffs that are available, see the Ofcom website. If you cannot find a cheaper tariff and you are struggling to pay a broadband or mobile bill, you should contact your provider. The UK’s biggest providers have committed to help customers struggling with the rising cost of living to stay connected.
- Can you travel by public transport instead of using a car? If you use public transport, is it cheaper if you buy a weekly or monthly travel pass or a season ticket?
You may be able to take short-term steps to help balance your budget quickly. Stopping some spending may allow you to have enough money to pay for essential bills such as your mortgage or rent, council tax, gas and electricity and TV licence.
Steps you may be able to take include stopping spending on items like clothing, socialising, meals at work, house maintenance, gifts, pocket money, hairdressing and opticians and dental costs. However, in the long-term, you will need to add this kind of spending back into your budget.
You may be able to reduce your spending on some fixed costs. This could reduce your spending now and in the long term.
- If you pay your council tax over 10 months, you may be able to pay over 12 months instead. This will reduce the amount you pay every month, but you will not get a payment break in February and March. Contact your council to ask about this.
- If you pay for a car or household items on hire purchase, you may be able to return these goods. This will mean you will not need to include these items in your budget as an essential payment. Contact us for advice if you are thinking about doing this. You can also find more information in our Hire purchase debt fact sheet.
- Check if you can reduce the cost of your water bills. The CCW websites has details of help that may be available, including tariffs which can reduce bills for some customers.
- You might need to consider whether you can afford to pay the mortgage or rent where you live. Could you think about downsizing? Sometimes mortgage lenders might offer help such as extending the term of the mortgage to reduce your monthly mortgage payment. Contact us for advice.
Still in deficit
It is not always possible to sort out your deficit budget by increasing income and reducing costs. If your budget is still in a deficit after you have reviewed your income and expenditure, you may need to decide which essential costs are not affordable. Contact us for advice if you feel that you are in a position where you have to stop paying an essential household bill.
Missing essential household bills
If you miss payments for essential household bills your home or essential services could be at risk. Contact us for advice before you miss any essential bills.
Some of the steps above might take some time to put in place. While you are taking steps to change your income and expenditure, you might struggle to buy essentials such as food. When you apply for benefits, there is often a waiting period before your first payment.
- Food banks can give you a minimum of three days' food in an emergency. For information about your nearest food bank go to the Trussell Trust website or contact us for advice.
- If you are claiming benefits, you might be able to claim an advance payment. This is repayable but might help with one-off expenses or allow you to pay for essentials until your benefits start. See GOV.UK for more information about a Universal Credit advance. If you claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support or Pension Credit, see GOV.UK for more information on advances you could claim.
- If you live in England, your council may have a local welfare assistance scheme that can help in an emergency situation, such as not having enough money for food or to put your heating on. Councils decide their own rules for their schemes. Contact your local council to see if they have a scheme that can help you.
- If you live in Wales, you may be able to apply for an Emergency Assistance Payment to help with your costs such as food, gas, electricity or clothing in an emergency situation.
- If you are moving, you could stop paying some essential bills. It is important you are sure you are moving before you do this. If this is something you are thinking about, contact us for advice. Whether you can stop making payments will depend on what you can afford and what the law says about what can happen if you miss payments.
If you don’t pay an essential bill, it will create debt. Stopping essential payments could see further charges being added and is likely to leave you with a debt to pay later.
Unable to make a payment
If you know that you will struggle to make a payment to a creditor, contact them as soon as you can to explain your situation. Your creditors are organisations or people that you owe money to, for example banks, councils or family and friends. Most organisations follow rules or codes of practice that say they should offer help if a customer is having difficulty making payments.
Telling your creditors if you are struggling will also give them an opportunity to let you know how they can help you. Help that creditors may be able to offer includes:
- flexibility with repayment dates;
- offering a payment break or payment holiday;
- agreeing an affordable repayment plan based on your budget sheet; or
- offering you a cheaper alternative if you are struggling to meet the ongoing costs of an essential service.
Contacting your creditors can prevent things getting worse, for example it may:
- stop creditors adding interest or late payment charges;
- stop creditors starting debt recovery action; or
- reduce the risk to goods and service that are essential to you.
Credit reference file and future borrowing
Lenders usually use your credit reference file when deciding whether to give you credit. Your credit reference file holds factual information, which can include your payment record on some agreements. Ask your creditor whether the options they offer you will affect your credit reference file.
For more information on credit reference files, see our Credit reference agencies fact sheet.
Who to contact first
Some creditors are more important than others as they have greater powers to recover money that is owed to them. Make a list of your creditors and contact your priority creditors before non-priority creditors.
Priority creditors have more power to get you to pay. For example, landlords and mortgage lenders are usually priority creditors because your home could be at risk if you do not pay them. Common priorities include rent, mortgage, council tax, TV licence and hire purchase agreements.
Non-priority creditors have less power to get their money back. Common non-priorities include credit cards, overdrafts, unsecured loans, payday loans and catalogues. You do still need to deal with non-priority creditors as they could still take you to court.
Contact us for advice if you are not sure which creditors should be treated as a priority.
What to say when you contact a creditor
You should be able to find contact details for your creditors on any letters you have from them or on their website. Most creditors provide different ways to contact them. Choose the method that you are most comfortable with.
List what you want to discuss with your creditor before you contact them. The following is list of things you may want to say.
- Tell your creditor that you are struggling to pay and explain why. For example, a sharp increase in your gas and electricity bill may mean that you don’t have enough money to meet other payments.
- If you have completed your budget sheet, let your creditor know what it shows or provide them with a copy of your budget summary. This will help your creditor understand what options are realistically available to you.
- If you have a disability, are suffering with poor physical or mental health or are in a vulnerable situation, let your creditor know if this makes it more difficult to deal with your finances or to deal with them. Your creditor may have a specialist team that can offer you more support if you are vulnerable.
- Ask your creditor how they can help you. Don’t feel pressured into accepting a particular option straightaway. Let your creditor know if you would rather make a note of what your options are and then take time to work out what suits you best.
- If you have not already had debt advice, ask your creditor to give you time to get advice. See the later section How to deal with your debts.
How to deal with your debts
There is no set way of dealing with debts. The best solution for you will depend on what your situation is. By speaking to a debt adviser, you can get an understanding of what steps you need to take to deal with your debts in the best way for your circumstances. See the Contact us section of our website for details on how to speak to a National Debtline adviser.
You can also find useful fact sheets on different types of debt and debt solutions in the Fact sheet library section of our website. Our Ways to clear your debt fact sheet also provides an overview of the different ways you can deal with your debt and how each debt solution works.
If you need time to get debt advice and find a debt solution, you may want to consider applying for breathing space. Breathing space will stop most types of enforcement, and also stop most creditors applying interest and charges, for 60 days.
To find out more, see our Breathing space fact sheet.
Advicelink Cymru A service for if you live in Wales that can help you check and claim benefits that you may be entitled to. Phone: 0808 250 5700 www.gov.wales/claim-whats-yours
Citizens Advice consumer helpline A consumer helpline for if you need more help with an energy problem. Phone: 0808 223 1133 www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Disability Energy Support A free energy and water advice service for households where one or more disabled people live. Phone: 0808 801 0828 www.scope.org.uk/disability-energy-support/
National Energy Action A national fuel poverty charity that can provide advice and support if you are struggling to heat your home. Phone: 0800 304 7159 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 12pm) www.nea.org.uk
Simple Energy Advice Free, impartial information and guidance on how to save energy. Phone: 0800 444 202 www.simpleenergyadvice.org.uk
Shelter For expert housing advice if you live in England. Phone: 0808 800 4444 www.shelter.org.uk
Shelter Cymru For expert housing advice if you live in Wales. Phone: 0800 049 5495 www.sheltercymru.org.uk
Turn2us A national charity that provides benefits checks and has a database of charitable grants. Phone: 0808 802 2000 www.turn2us.org.uk
Trussell Trust For information on food banks near you. Phone: 01722 580 178 www.trusselltrust.org