At one time or another many people experience difficulties paying their bills. If you get into debt with your gas or electricity supplier it's very important to tackle the problem.
If you let your energy bills build up, there is a risk of eventually being disconnected – which means having your energy cut off - by your supplier. Here we explain the rules, what should happen if you are disconnected and the help available to you to get reconnected.
Debt and prepayment meters
If you don't engage with your supplier on a debt and 28 days pass, they can contact you about the possibility of disconnecting your energy supply.
Your supplier must give you the chance to repay the money you owe through a payment plan before they disconnect you. The plan must factor in your financial circumstances and ability to pay. Debts can be repaid over a number of months as you also continue to pay for your ongoing energy use.
It's rare that customers are disconnected. Usually your supplier will ask to fit a prepayment meter, also referred to as a 'key card' or 'token' meter, in your home. They work in a similar way to a pay-as-you-go phone. You don't have to have one if you don't want one. Ask your supplier about your options. Find out more in Understand your energy meter.
If you don’t engage with your supplier to agree how to resolve the debt, or fail to stick to an agreed payment plan, they can also install a prepayment meter under a warrant to recover the money you owe. They can only do this as a last resort and must send you a notice telling you they’re applying to the court.
Who can't be disconnected?
If you are threatened with disconnection there are strict rules on who can or can't be disconnected.
If you're eligible for the Priority Services Register
Suppliers are prohibited from disconnecting a premises occupied by a customer eligible for the Priority Services Register during the winter months (1 October - 31 March). You're eligible for the Priority Services Register if you:
- are of pensionable age
- are disabled or chronically sick
- have a long-term medical condition
- have a hearing or visual impairment or additional communication needs
- are in a vulnerable situation.
If you're a 'Safety Net' vulnerable consumer
Many suppliers have also signed up to a Safety Net, a pledge to never knowingly disconnect a vulnerable customer at any time of year.
This offers further protection for vulnerable customers. In this instance, vulnerable customers may be customers who are unable to safeguard their personal welfare or the personal welfare of other members of the household due to:
- age (such as younger people at home)
- severe financial insecurity.
If you're bankrupt or you owe debts to a former energy supplier
You cannot be disconnected if:
- your debt is owed to a previous supplier
- you have been made bankrupt and the debt relates to a period before you went bankrupt
- the debt is not for the gas or electricity you have used but for some other service or appliance you have bought from your supplier.
If you think you shouldn't be disconnected, contact your supplier and tell them. If you aren't happy with their response, follow their complaints process and make a complaint.
Get help to repay a debt and avoid disconnection
Specific help is available if you have either been threatened with disconnection or who have actually been disconnected:
- Citizens Advice consumer helpline (opens another website) - can refer your case to the Extra Help Unit who can negotiate with your supplier on your behalf.
- Home Energy Scotland (opens another website) - in Scotland
- Nest home heat programme (opens another website) - in Wales
- Check the Energy Grants Calculator on GOV.UK.
Further support can also be found in our section on Who to contact if it's difficult paying energy bills.
It may be also possible to repay an energy debt through a scheme called Fuel Direct. You are eligible for this scheme if you get:
- income support
- job seeker's allowance
- pension credits
- employment and support allowance.
Through Fuel Direct, a fixed sum will be automatically deducted every week from your benefits and paid directly to your energy supplier. This will cover your current fuel use and also pay off a certain amount of your debt.
- Find out more on GOV.UK: Help paying bills using your benefits (opens another website)
To get reconnected after a disconnection, contact your supplier. There may be costs and charges involved. Your supplier will explain them.
If you experience temporary disconnection because of a power cut, dial 105, the free power cut line or visit PowerCut105.com. You might be able to claim compensation from your network operator under the Guaranteed Standards.
Ofgem is working to deliver changes to protect consumers from experiencing more debt or hardship due to prepayment meter warrant installations. Under current rules, suppliers can charge warrant costs back to you. The charges, which can include court costs, can range between £200 to £900. We’re consulting on plans to place a firm cap at £100 or £150 on warrant charges for all customers.
We’re also proposing to ban warrant charges altogether, and in some cases installations, for the most vulnerable customers. This includes people in financial hardship, and people with physical and mental health issues and learning difficulties.
From April 2017, prepayment meter customers will also be protected by an interim price cap which will save them around £75 a year.
These caps will be an interim measure until 2020, the date by which the government wants suppliers to have rolled out smart meters to every home in England, Scotland and Wales.
Remember, if you are threatened with disconnection it is important to act quickly and try and reach a financial arrangement that is acceptable to both you and your supplier.
More extra help guides
- Who to contact if it's difficult paying energy bills
- Energy saving support schemes and advice
- Home heating support schemes and advice
- Priority Services Register for people in need
- Ofgem energy customer database service
- Power cuts: Help and compensation under the Guaranteed Standards
- Complain about your gas or electricity bill of supplier