The continued cost of living crisis has left thousands of households across the UK struggling to pay their bills, with some even falling into debt.
To try and alleviate high energy prices, some people may wish to switch suppliers but feel unable to do so if they’re in energy debt. However, it is possible to switch suppliers even if you are in debt.
But before switching, there are some steps you should consider that may help resolve your debt faster.
If you are currently facing energy debt, before switching to a new energy supplier, you should first speak with your existing one. Your existing supplier can set up a repayment plan to help you pay back your debt gradually.
On a repayment plan, your payment will be spaced out over an agreed period and avoid you having to pay a large, lump sum payment.
The repayment plan you agree to with your supplier will need to be paid as well as your ongoing usage, so that part of your payments will go towards your current use and part towards your debt.
In the event you’re already on a repayment plan but are struggling to make these payments, you may be able to renegotiate with your supplier to a plan that is more manageable for your situation.
I receive benefits and am in energy debt
If you receive benefits, you may be able to arrange for a particular type of repayment plan known as the ‘Fuel Direct Scheme’. With the Fuel Direct Scheme, a fixed amount will be deducted from each benefits payment you receive and go towards paying off your energy debt.
To apply for the Scheme, you will need to contact your local jobcentre (if you get Pension Credit you will need to contact the Pension Service). The jobcentre will contact your supplier and tell them you wish to pay off your energy debt using the Fuel Direct Scheme. Your supplier will then organise the repayment amounts and let you know how much you will be paying.
Switching while in debt
You may be able to switch to a new supplier even if you owe them money, but it depends on exactly when they sent you the bill you haven’t paid. You have the right to switch from your current supplier if they either: -
- Sent you the bill less than 28 days ago
- Are yet to send you a bill
If either of these points apply to you and you decide you want to switch suppliers, your old supplier will add any owed amounts to your final bill. It is important to remember that this final bill will need to be paid even if you are able to switch.
Will I still need to pay my bill if I switch?
Yes. Although you may be able to switch to a new supplier while in debt to your existing one, you will still need to pay any outstanding bills with them eventually.
In debt with a prepayment meter
If you are currently on a prepayment meter (Pay As You Go) and in energy debt, you can still switch to a new supplier if your debt is £500 or less. When you do switch, your debt will be taken with you and will be repaid to the new supplier. This is known as the ‘Debt Assignment Protocol’.
What is the Debt Assignment Protocol (DAP)?
The Debt Assignment Protocol (DAP) was introduced to allow energy customers who use a prepayment meter to switch suppliers if they have a debt of £500 or less. It is intended to prevent indebtedness acting as a barrier to switching.
My energy supplier won’t let me switch. Why?
Switching suppliers to pay less for your gas and electricity is a good idea. But if you’re in energy debt, there are circumstances where your supplier can legally prevent you from switching. These include:-
- If your supplier sent you a bill more than 28 days ago, you cannot switch until you pay the bill.
- If you live in a property where the energy bills are not in your name.
- The type of meter you have is not supported by the new supplier or tariff.
Your supplier should always explain why they won’t let you switch. If they don’t explain this, or you don’t agree with their reason to prevent you from switching, you should lodge a complaint with your supplier.
Financial support from energy suppliers
Some electricity suppliers offer a range of grants to provide extra help to customers who are currently in debt. These include:
British Gas Energy Trust
The British Gas Energy Trust was set up to help individuals and families facing energy debt.
To apply for a grant with the British Gas Trust, you must meet all of the following criteria:-
- Live in England, Scotland or Wales
- Have not received a grant from the British Gas Energy Trust within the last 2 years.
- Need to clear an outstanding debt on a current or open gas, electricity or dual fuel energy account in your name or be a member of that household.
- You have electric and / or gas debt
- Do not have savings above £1,000
- Have already received help from a money advice agency
Check with the British Gas Trust for more information on these grants and eligibility requirements. visiting their website.
EDF Energy Customer Support Fund
The EDF Energy Customer Support Fund is a collaboration between EDF Energy and grants administrator Charis Lets Talk. The fund offers extra support to customers struggling with energy debt, including providing help with paying arrears and replacing whitegoods such as cookers, washing machines, and fridge-freezers.
To apply for a grant through the EDF Customer Support Fund, you must meet the following criteria:-
- Your EDF account number
- Send in a meter reading the same day you make an application
- Tell EDF why you are applying
- Proof of tax credits or any benefits
- Have already received advice from a money advice agency
- Know your household income, spending and debts.
E.ON Next Energy Fund
Similar to EDF Energy’s initiative, the E.ON Next Energy Fund is a collaboration between E.ON and Charis Let’s Talk. It offers help to customers experiencing financial hardship including providing grants to pay gas and electricity bills, and replacing white goods that are either broken or in very poor condition.
To apply for either a grant or replacement of appliances through the E.ON Next Energy Fund, you must satisfy the following criteria:-
- Proof of all household income for yourself and anyone living with you, for the current tax year.
- All pages from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stating your entitlement to a benefit and the amounts due to be paid for the current tax year.
- Pension letters for State or private pensions.
- Medical confirmation from the organisation that referred you to the fund or a medical DS1500 form or medical confirmation from a consultant or your doctor.
- Information around the current condition of your white good(s).
Octopus Energy Octo Assist Fund
Octopus energy has put together the Octo Asisst Fund to help its customers struggling to pay their energy bills. The fund includes access to existing schemes, monetary support and the loan of an FLIR thermal imaging camera to help locate draughts in the home.
To apply for assistance through the Octo Assist Fund, you will need to complete a short questionnaire.
Scottish Power Hardship Fund
Scottish Power's Hardship Fund helps its customers who are struggling to pay their energy debt.
To apply for assistance through the Scottish Power Hardship Fund you must meet the following criteria:-
- Have proof of low income
- Be receiving Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Pension Credit, or Employment and Support Allowance
Shell Energy Helpfund
Shell Energy has setup a £20 million Helpfund to provide assistance to its customers who need financial support, through to the end of 2024.
To apply for assistance through the Shell Energy Helpfund, you will need to complete their online contact form.
Other ways to help manage energy debt
In addition to speaking with your supplier to help set-up a repayment plan, there are also some other options to help you reduce your energy debt faster, including several government grants and schemes that offer discounts and payments you can use toward paying your bills.
You can also try speaking with Citizens Advice, an organisation made up of local, independent charities that offer free information and impartial advice on consumer rights, including paying bills and what options may be available to you.
There’s also the National Debtline – a charity who offer free debt advice and services around budgeting for energy costs and other household utilities.
Ready to switch supplier?
If you’re ready to switch your energy provider, use Switchcraft. We’ll find the best deal to suit your personal and financial circumstances to help you stay on top of your bills. Our entirely free service will also handle switching you to your new supplier, leaving you more time to focus on the important things.
Compare gas and electricity deals
We monitor the market and automatically switch you to better deals for free.