Struggling energy customers to get more help to pay bills and top-up meters


HOUSEHOLDS struggling to pay their energy bills will be given more help this winter as the cold weather sets in.

Energy providers voluntarily agreed to support vulnerable customers during the cornavirus crisis, but energy regulator Ofgem is now making rules first announced in June permanent to help households all year round.

Suppliers will have to offer emergency credit to struggling prepayment meter customers under new rules

From December 15, suppliers will have to offer emergency credit to customers struggling to top up their prepayment meter.

This could be because they temporarily cannot afford to top up or get to their local shop because of a mobility issue or due to self-isolation for example.

Suppliers will also have to offer extra prepayment credit to households in vulnerable circumstances to provide more breathing space while they work out how to pay their energy bills.

Ofgem hopes these requirements will reduce the number of prepayment customers who go without energy or “self-disconnect” after running out of credit on their meter.

Of the 4million households using pay-as-you-go prepayment meters, where you top-up energy in advance, around one in seven (571,000) had self-disconnected their supply in the past 12 months, according to Ofgem.

Another new rule being introduced from the same date will see customers in energy debt put on on “realistic and sustainable” repayment plans.

This means suppliers will have to proactively contact customers and use an individual rather than a blanket approach to set repayments.

Suppliers must also improve how they identify customers who are self-disconnecting or who might be self-rationing their energy use.

Philippa Pickford, director of retail at Ofgem, 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.”

Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of charity Citizens Advice, added: “We’ve been pressing for the measures agreed between government and energy suppliers to help people through the coronavirus pandemic to be extended and widened, so we’re very pleased to see this announcement from the regulator.”

But Dame Gillian says more still needs to be done to support those who need it most, including making a temporary uplift to Universal Credit and working tax credit permanent.

Here’s how to save money on energy if your bills have soared during lockdown due to working or increased time at home.

Plus, a new online HMRC tool has launched to help you claim back up to £125 if you work from home.