The news that the energy price cap could lead to annual energy bills hitting £3,549 typically and £3,608 for the 4.5 million people on pre-payment meters has led to millions of people seeking help and advice on how to beat the price hikes.

While there are no easy answers, there is help available. Knowing your rights and what you should be entitled to if you are struggling can empower you when you speak to a business. Don’t wait till October for the price rise to hit – seek help now if you are struggling.

Regulator Ofgem has a page on their website that helpfully lists your options, grants and other schemes here:

Here is my guide to the help available if you can’t pay your energy bills.

How do I know if I’m in financial difficulties?

Many of the people who contact me and the Mirror are concerned that much of the help available is only for people in receipt of benefits. The most common question I’m asked is ‘what help is available for everyone else?’

You don’t have to be teetering on the verge of going permanently in to the red to get help from energy companies (or any business you owe money to).

In basic terms, if the money you have coming in to your bank account is less than what’s going out, you’re in significant financial difficulties. However, if the money you are left over with after paying out your main bills is limited, or not enough to cover you in an emergency, you should also meet the definition of financial difficulties and can ask the business to help you out.

Many people don’t ask for help because they don’t consider their finances to be that dire. Often homeowners question if they qualify for help. Owning a house or having a mortgage doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to support if you can’t afford your bills.

What help can I expect if I say that I’m in financial difficulties?

Before you contact the energy firm, you’ll need to put together a brief overview of your finances. This doesn’t need to be exhaustive so around fifteen minutes should cover it. Write down the money you have coming in and what you pay out – and the amount of cash you are left over with. The energy firm is allowed to ask you for this so they can figure out the best solution to your situation. Make sure you note down if you are worried about losing your job, or a source of money. Have a think about your home situation too. It can help to explain about the needs of your family, who the wage earners are and if anyone has specific needs or could be considered vulnerable or older.

According to Ofgem’s regulations, the energy firm should come up with a tailored plan to meet your needs. You can read what businesses are supposed to do on regulator OFGEM’s website here:

OFGEM says that you can ask for the following:

  • 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
  • The option to go on the Priority Services Register – a free support service for a wide range of people struggling or who need support:

If you feel that the business is not listening or helping – or they are making things worse – then you can take your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman for free. Make it clear to the business that you expect them to take no action against you while the matter is looked in to by the ombudsman.

Grants and energy schemes

Most of the energy businesses offer energy or heating grants for their customers. While most of these offers are for their own customers who meet certain criteria, others, like the scheme run by British Gas, are open to everyone.

Citizens advice has a really useful list of all of the main schemes here:

As with help for people in financial difficulties, you’ll need to have the details of your budget and financial situation to apply. If you don’t have access to the internet, you can talk to Citizens Advice to get some help and advice.

Government schemes for energy customers

There are a range of payments that you might qualify for as part of the Government’s grants for older or more vulnerable people

The Winter Fuel Payment

This is a payment of between £250 to £600 for people born on or before 25 September 1956. The payment includes the ‘Pensioner Cost of Living Payment of between £150 to £300 – which is only available in Winter 2022. The way the payments are calculated is a little complicated to explain. However, there’s a handy table you can check here:

The Cold Weather Payment

If you receive any of these benefits then you should qualify for the Cold Weather Payment.  This is a £25 payment for every seven days of very cold weather (below freezing) between November and March.

The Warm Home Discount Scheme

This is a discount scheme due to be confirmed in November 2022. Last year, people who qualified got £140 off their energy bill as a discount on the bill itself. I believe the payment will be £150 this year. Your energy provider decides if you qualify. You should get the payment if you are on a low income or you receive the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit.

People who live in Scotland or Wales may qualify for:

The Child Winter Heating Assistance

This is a £214 annual payment per disabled child and young person under 19 living in Scotland.

Winter fuel support scheme

This is a £200 annual payment for Welsh households in receipt of a range of benefits.

Other schemes

The Cost-of-Living payment is a rather complicated series of payments that you should automatically get if you qualify for certain benefits. The payments are underway with more to follow. You can read all about the scheme and what to do if you don’t get the cash here:

The Household Support Fund was created last year to provide help for people struggling with their bills or who might fall in a ‘vulnerable’ category.

You apply for a grant from the fund from your local council. The money is provided on a discretionary basis, meaning the councils decide who gets what (and how). That means quite a bit of variance around the UK over who gets what.

You might find that you are offered vouchers instead of cash – presumably because councils can get a better deal block buying these from participating retailers.

Finally, from October we will all start to receive the £400 Energy Bills Support Scheme, which will be paid out in six monthly payments from October. You can find out more about the scheme and how you will get the money here:

What other help can I get with money difficulties?

Of course, for many people, this simply isn’t going to be enough. So let me be clear about this. We need Government intervention now. Energy firms are going to have to step up to the mark too and do all they can to support their customers.

If you are struggling and need advice, Money Helper is a new, free service set up to make it quicker and easier to find the right help. It brings together three long-standing government-backed financial guidance providers: the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise. There are loads of tips, help and yes, you can speak to people too.

Finally, free debt charity, StepChange is there to help you if you simply can’t afford your bills and you need a debt plan. It’s not easy, but it is the best solution. Never pay for debt management services.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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