Last week we looked at some ways to save money by cutting your energy costs over winter. While it’s always great to bring the bills down, those who are really struggling should consider reaching out for extra help. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused extra money worries for many of us, and this has led energy regulator Ofgem to tell suppliers they should be doing more to help customers who can’t pay.
People using prepayment meters could be offered emergency top up payments to help ensure that the house stays warm. This could be for financial reasons – but it is also designed to help those who can’t leave the house because they are self-isolating, and are therefore unable to top up their accounts.
Ofgem are concerned that vulnerable people may be using prepayment meters could be struggling to keep them topped up. By requiring energy suppliers to give emergency credit they should be able to help avoid the dangers of going without heating and hot water.
Sustainable repayment plans
Their other concern is for people who have racked up debts due to unpaid bills. The regulator have told energy companies that they will have to work with customers to find a sustainable payment solution, rather than piling on penalties and fees.
In practice, this likely means setting reasonable repayment rates that are based on how much the individual customer can afford.
A formal requirement
Suppliers have already been working with customers to try and provide support during COVID-19, but up until now it has been an informal arrangement. From 15 December, Ofgem will formally require energy companies to offer proactive support – specifically in the areas of emergency credit and debt repayment – in order to meet their licensing obligations.
The energy regulator has been working hard to find ways to support customers over this difficult winter. Back in August, they cut the energy price cap to £1,042, meaning that household bills should fall by an average of £82. It is expected to stay low over the winter before potentially rising again next April.
How to get help
It’s important to start a conversation with your supplier if you’re having difficulty making payments, so that you can get some help and avoid being cut off.
Ofgem’s director of retail Philippa Pickford said:
“customers who are struggling to pay their bills should contact their supplier as soon as possible. The extra protections we have announced today will help ensure they get some breathing space this winter.”
Aside from speaking directly with your energy provider, you could also get further help from a charity such as StepChange.org. They can help you work out the best way to pay your outstanding bills and start to get your finances back in order. Some energy providers may ask you for proof that you’re trying to resolve the situation, and evidence such as a client reference number from StepChange will help you to make your case.