How to deal with utility arrears
Published 12 June 2015 by Hayley Cox
Behind on your utility bills? Our tips can help you sort it out.
Getting into arrears with any bill can be daunting, but when you risk having your electricity or gas cut off because you’ve fallen behind on your payments, it can be really worrying. This is especially so if you have young children, elderly relatives or anyone who’s ill living with you.
Recent research carried out by uSwitch shows that almost four million UK families are now in arrears with their energy supplier, an increase of 260,000 from last year. And last year, 97,000 pre-payment meters were forcibly installed into the homes of people who could not afford to pay. So, it’s even more important to find out how to resolve arrears quickly and efficiently to stop you becoming another statistic.
First and most important – you should call your suppliers and speak to them before you get into serious arrears. The sooner they know that you are struggling to pay, the more likely you are to get the issue resolved before it becomes something that ends up with a threat of a pre-payment meter or, worse still, being cut off. It could be a case of spreading out what you owe over the next couple of months to bring you back up to date – so speaking to your provider is key.
Go with a plan – work out how much you can afford to pay and offer to do so on a plan. Simply list all your incomings and outgoings and work out what you can reasonably afford without stretching yourself too far and don’t be persuaded to go over it. After all, you really don’t want to be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Check that you’re getting what you’re entitled to – there are three things you should check to make sure you’re getting what you should. The first port of call is the Government. Check their website to see if you could apply for cold weather payments or help with insulating your home to bring your bills down. Second, some of the major energy suppliers have schemes to help out those who might be struggling to pay their bills. You should check to see if your company has anything to offer and if you would qualify. You can see who offers what here. If you’re on benefits, it’s also worth checking to make sure that you’ve got all the help you’re due, and if you aren’t on benefits its worth checking if there are any that you are entitled to.
Have a prepayment fitted – although this is not something we’d recommend and should only be considered as a last resort, you can have a prepayment meter fitted that can be set so that each time you credit it, a small portion of your debt is paid off. Bear in mind though that you usually pay more for prepayment meter energy tariffs.
And remember – your supplier cannot cut you off without giving you lots of prior warning first, so if you start to fall behind with your payments it’s important not to panic. Keep a cool head and speak to your provider, you might be surprised by how much help they’ll give you.