Five ways to beat energy costs crisis including £1,500 cash to pay bills

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Energy regulator Ofgem has shared expert tips on coping with soaring energy bills as Brits battle the cost of living crisis. It said: “We are working round the clock to make sure consumers pay no more than is necessary and are supported by suppliers in any way possible.”

The guidance came as the UK and Scottish governments were accused of “sitting on their hands while people’s bills skyrocket” amid a “cost of living catastrophe.” Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the support offered to struggling households will “barely make a dent” when it comes to paying increasing bills, adding: “Many people who have donated to food banks for years are now relying on them instead.”

Meanwhile, energy company E.ON has told the UK Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that at least 40 per cent of its customers will go into fuel poverty this year, meaning they can’t afford to adequately heat their homes. The price cap is expected to go up again in October, with the Government so far offering a £150 council tax rebate intended to help with energy costs followed by a repayable £200 energy bills rebate later this year.

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So what should you do if you are unable to cope with the costs of gas and electricity in your home? Here’s what Ofgem is saying to consumers.

1. Agree a payment plan with your supplier

Contact your supplier as soon as possible if you are worried about paying your energy bills or are in debt to your supplier. Companies must work with you to agree on a payment plan you can afford under Ofgem rules.

You can ask for:

  • a review of your payments and debt repayments
  • payment breaks or reductions
  • more time to pay
  • access to hardship funds
  • advice on how to use less energy
  • Priority Service registration – this is a free support service to help people in vulnerable situations. Energy suppliers and network operators offer it, with each keeping their own register. You need to contact your energy supplier or network operator to get on it.

If you use a pre-payment meter, you can ask for emergency credit if you’re unable to afford to top it up.

2. Go to an advice agency for help

If you and the supplier are unable to agree on a way to pay, then ask for help from Citizens Advice or Advice Direct Scotland. Someone at their Extra Help Unit could take on your case if you are in a vulnerable situation.

Citizens Advice

  • Call on 0808 223 1133 or use their online webchat.
  • For textphone, dial 18001 followed by the helpline number.

Advice Direct Scotland

3. Ask about cash support from suppliers

Energy companies usually offer a number of different types of support for home heating and energy costs. This can include cash grants as well as making your home more energy-efficient or offering free boiler checks and upgrades.

For instance, the British Gas Energy Trust offers grants – usually up to £1,500 – to clear gas or electricity debts. Grants for amounts over £1,500 can be considered in exceptional circumstances. By clearing off account deficits, your supplier won’t want to put direct debits up as high to try to pay off what you already owe so this is a good way of keeping your outgoings lower and more manageable.

The money is available to customers of any energy company, not just British Gas. But the majority of the grant budget is set aside for British Gas customers, the trust said. You will need to show you have had professional money advice before applying.

To apply you need to meet the following criteria:

  • You live in England, Scotland or Wales
  • You have not received a grant from the British Gas Energy Trust within the last two years
  • You are looking for a grant 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. The energy account must relate to your main residence
  • You have electric and/or gas debt
  • You do not have savings above £1,000
  • You have received help from a money advice agency

British Gas also runs an Energy Support Fund, specially set up to deal with the current cost of living crisis, where thousands of its own customers with energy debts of between £250 and £750 can apply for cash to pay off what they owe. To access this fund, you need to live in England, Scotland or Wales and have savings that don’t exceed £1,000.

Energy provider Octopus has set up a £5 million Octo Assist Fund to help those worried about paying for their energy. If you’re an Octopus customer, you can access its financial support form at this link. What’s on offer depends on circumstances and need and includes monetary support from the fund, or a loan of a thermal imagery camera to find heat leaks at home. It urged people to get in touch if they are struggling to pay for gas and electricity use.

Similarly, Scottish Power has a hardship fund that works by clearing or reducing arrears on people’s accounts if they are struggling to get bills under control. Find out more here.

4. Check if you’ll get any Government help

There may be help available from the Government in some cases. Much of it is for the winter months but with the energy price cap set to rise again in October, it’s worth having all these schemes in mind.

These include the Winter Fuel Payment of £100 to £300 paid out in November or December, and the Cold Weather Payment of £25 for every seven days of freezing weather between November and March.

There’s also the £140 Warm Homes Discount on your electricity bill, between October and March, for those who get Pension Credit or are in low-income households.

In March 2022, the Government’s Household Support Fund was doubled to £1 billion with £500 million of new funding to support families with the cost of living. People will be able to access support through their local authority, including help with energy bills and water bills. Birmingham City Council said: “We are currently awaiting further details from Government about the money available for spring onwards and the delivery and availability of this funding.”

5. Change your tariff or payment method

Ofgem advises changing the payment method for your bills if you can. It says direct debit is usually a cheaper option – and it’s also easier to manage as a way of keeping an eye on costs month by month. Consumers are also advised to check if they can cut costs by switching from their current energy tariff or to another supplier.

In addition, it might be worth trying the Simple Energy Advice calculator to see how you can improve your energy efficiency. Call Simple Energy Advice on 0800 444 202 if you’re in England or Wales, or Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282 if you’re in Scotland.

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