Electricity and Gas Arrears - What Can Happen
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Electricity and Gas Arrears - What Can Happen

Last Updated: Sunday 17th March, 2013

If you find yourself falling behind on gas or electricity payments, you should take steps to seek help as quickly as possible, as these are classed as 'priority debts', meaning that you can be disconnected if you fall into arrears. (Note that this cannot happen for water bill arrears, as legally, your water provider cannot cut off your water supply.)

Disconnection of gas and electricity supplies is generally the last resort but due to its severe consequences - particularly in Winter - it's important that you don't reach this stage. If you do find yourself experiencing payment difficulties - or anticipate that you will do - contact your energy supplier immediately as the first step and speak to them about your situation and your options. They may be able to put you onto a more cost-effective tariff or advise whether you are eligible for a social tariff. These are for people predominantly experiencing fuel poverty, generally classed as people who's fuel bills constitute 10% or more of their monthly income.

Ask your supplier to come and take an accurate gas and electricity meter reading - or provide one yourself. Many people get into difficulties with estimated bills which may be inaccurate. For example, if you've recently moved into a property, the supplier may have set the monthly estimated sums at the previous owner's usage levels. Similarly in this situation, check that the outstanding bill is actually yours - it may actually have been accrued by the previous dweller in which case you are not liable for it.

Of course it may also be that the utility company has made a mistake - so again, it's worth getting that meter checked and being re-billed for your actual usage. Once this has been done, then you can speak to the energy supplier about payment arrangements - an amount which will cover your current fuel usage and pay some contribution towards the outstanding arrears. This amount can be negotiated and will be based on your affordability. Provide your energy company with a proposed amount with evidence of your income and expenditure to back up your calculations. If there is some delay and wrangling over this amount, then go ahead and start making regular payments at this level regardless, as energy companies are bound by codes of practice which oblige them to accept payment offers so long as they are 'affordable' to the customer.

You should also review how you pay your bill - for example, if you do so by direct debit, or manage your account online, there is usually a discount on your bill. Monthly installments are also useful to avoid large quarterly bills and they make the annual bill more manageable. If you are also paying arrears, your fuel provider will agree with you whether you will pay these monthly, weekly or fortnightly. If you can't afford the amount they're requesting ask for a special arrangement. Again the provider is bound by the code of practice to accept a rate that you can afford, even if the payment plan needs to be extended over a year. You can even arrange to have your deductions paid from any benefits you claim - for example Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance.

Further Reading
What is Fuel Poverty?
Gas and electricity arrears-what to do?


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