Struggling to pay your gas and electricity bills? Trust me, you’re not the only one.
If you’re in energy debt and want to switch your gas and electricity supply for better deals, the process may not be simple (but not impossible either!).
This guide will explain the entire process, explore easy options to pay off energy debt and answer some FAQs.
Things to Know Before You Switch Energy Suppliers with Debt
If you owe money to your current energy supplier, you don’t always have to pay it back before switching to another supplier.
But then, when is it mandatory to pay off debt before switching? To make sure that your energy supplier isn’t being unfair, you’ll need to know a couple of rules about being able to switch energy suppliers:
The 28-Days Rule
If you’ve been owing money to your gas or electricity supplier for more than 28 days, you’ll have to pay it back before you switch to a new supply. In this case, your current supplier can stop you from switching.
If your debt is only 28 days (or less) old, you can switch your energy suppliers easily.
However, this does not apply to cases where your debt may actually be the supplier’s fault. For instance, your supplier may have accidentally sent you incorrect energy bills only to realize later that you needed to pay more.
In such a case, the supplier cannot stop you if you want to switch to a new supplier. However, you’ll still need to pay them the due amount whenever you receive their final bill.
The £500 Rule (Prepayment Meter)
The above rule is only for people who do not pay in advance for their gas and electricity supply. There’s a different rule for consumers who use a prepayment meter to pay bills in advance.
The only time you cannot switch energy supply is when you owe more than £500 for electricity or £500 for gas.
However, if you owe less than 500, your supplier cannot stop you from energy switching. In this case, a protocol called the Debt Assignment Protocol would have to be followed, according to which your new supplier will transfer both your debt and the supply. Keep in mind that you’ll need to make a request for this beforehand.
How to Pay Off Energy Debt?
The first thing to know about paying off energy debt is that you’re not as helpless as you may think.
Energy suppliers in the UK have a couple of obligations in this regard.
- First of all, they have to tell you how you can pay back your energy debt.
- Secondly, based on your financial circumstances, they have to offer you a payment plan.
As a debtor, the first thing you need to do is to make thorough calculations of your budget. This includes all your income (pensions, benefits, etc) and your essential monthly expenses like rent, groceries, food, toiletries, etc. Don’t forget to consider one-off payments like road taxes etc.
Once you have all this calculated, take this to your energy supplier and negotiate a payment plan. Remember, you do have a say in the payment plan’s decision. Your supplier cannot force you to agree upon payments that you cannot afford.
Choosing a payment plan wisely is very important because later if you fail to keep to the plan, your supplier may install a prepayment meter in your home.
Payment plans to pay back energy debts can be monthly, bimonthly or weekly. This is the best option for people who want to pay off their debt but can’t do it all at once. A part of your payment pays your energy bill while the rest is deducted from your energy debt.
Grants & Allowances to Help You Out
In addition to payment plans to pay off your debt, there are other options to consider when it comes to paying back your energy supplier: grants and allowances.
- Warm Home Discount
This government project gives
- A one-off discount on energy bills, or
- A voucher if you have a prepayment meter
The sum paid was ￡140 back in winter 2014/15, and is usually paid sometime between October and March.
To be eligible:
- You should be receiving the Pensions Credit’s guarantee credit, and
- Your energy supplier must have signed up for the initiative
- Winter Fuel Allowance
The winter fuel payment or allowance is a tax-free allowance for people who are old enough to receive a state pension.
You get this amount annually as a one-off payment. People who receive a state pension receive this allowance automatically.
- Cold Weather Payments
If you receive Income Support, Pension Credit, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, there are high chances that you would be eligible for this payment.
This is an initiative by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to help out people in winters when the temperature remains less than zero for a week straight.
FAQs – All You Should Know to Switch Suppliers with Debt
Does it help to switch energy suppliers when you’re in debt?
Many people pay expensive tariffs only because they are unaware about better deals. If you find a more affordable option, energy switching could bring down your monthly expenses in the long run.
If I want to switch, can my supplier stop me?
If you owe more than ￡500 or have been in debt for more than 28 days, your energy supplier does have the right to stop you from switching.
What to do if my supplier doesn’t let me switch?
If they do have the right to stop you, you should simply pay back what you owe or negotiate a payment plan.
However, if your energy supplier is being unfair, you can make a formal complaint and even take the matter to the energy ombudsman if your supplier doesn’t respond.
My old supplier owes me money, what to do?
You’ll get your final bill from your old supplier within 6 weeks of switching. If not, they’ll pay £30 in compensation.
If they owe you any credit, but don’t pay back within 10 days of the last bill, they’ll have to pay £30 more. If not, you should complain against them.
Can I ask my supplier for a payment plan?
Yes! If you can’t afford to pay back the entire debt at once, take the matter to your supplier and negotiate a payment plan.
This is all you need to know if you want to switch to a different energy supply.
Remember, over 8 million Britons are in debt and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You should switch to cheaper options whenever you can and an energy supplier is no exception.