In July 2021, the Ofgem price cap sat at just £1,042. In reality, there is no total cap on how much you can pay for energy. The Ofgem price cap sets a limit on how much your energy supplier can charge you for each unit of gas and electricity you use, plus standing charges.
But the charity Citizens Advice this week issued a warning about people struggling. A total of 46,431 people contacted Citizens Advice for help with energy debt in the first six months of 2023 - up 17% on the same period last year. We explain some of the help available.
If you don't think you can cover your next energy bill, or the cost of your energy bills are becoming unmanageable, then you should speak to your supplier as soon as you can.
If your supplier knows your situation then it can put things in place to help you - under Ofgem rules, all suppliers have to do this. Your supplier can offer you a range of options which could help, which includes:
The help you can get is decided on a case-by-case basis - so not everyone will get the same.
If you are a vulnerable customer, make sure you are signed up to the Priority Services Register which is a service that offers extra support to customers that need it.
The help you could get includes advance notice of planned power cuts, priority support in an emergency and help with reading your meter.
To be eligible for this support you will need to have reached the state pension age, have a disability or long-term medical condition, or be recovering from a medical condition.
However, there can be other ways to be eligible for the Priority Services Register. Speak to your supplier for more information.
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All prepayment energy customers should be offered emergency credit so they don't run out of power. Usually, the emergency credit is around £5 but some suppliers have upped their in response to the energy crisis.
To get the help, you usually need to have very little money left on your meter - usually less than 50p for electricity or less than £2 for gas. With emergency credit, you do have to pay it back when you next top up.
Suppliers also offer a service called "Friendly Credit" which means you won't be cut off when your credit runs out at certain times of the week. The times can vary between suppliers but usually, you won't be cut off between 6pm and 9pm Monday to Saturday and all day on Sunday and bank holidays. Again, you need to pay anything you've used during this time back when you next have to top up.
Another support offer by suppliers is "additional support credit" - this is made available if you can't afford to top up your meter and you are facing self-disconnection.
In general, additional support credit is usually for those in vulnerable situations, such as those of state pension age, or with a disability or long-term medical condition. It is also down to the supplier to assess who is eligible, what you can get, and how it works.
If you speak to your supplier, you may be offered or told to apply for support through its energy hardship scheme. The majority of the UK’s biggest energy firms such as British Gas, EDF, Octopus Energy, E.ON, and Ovo offer help through grants to those struggling to pay their bills.
British Gas offers help to both customers and non-customers through grants of up to £1,500 to help with energy debt through its Individuals and Families Fund. Other energy suppliers normally only offer help to its customers.
Exact eligibility requirements vary – for example, some say you need to be in receipt of certain benefits – and you normally need to have spoken to a debt advisor first. Get in contact with your energy supplier to see if it has a hardship fund available.
Cost of living payments
The Government is paying another round of cost of living payments this year and going into 2024 for people on means-tested benefits, totalling £900.
The first payment worth £301 has already been given but another two are set to come later this year and early next. The second payment worth £299 will be given in the autumn - with the third worth £300 in the spring of 2024.
There was also a cost of living payment worth £150 for people claiming disability benefits - this was given out in the summer. Pensioner households will receive an extra £300 this winter. You can find out all about the cost of living payments here.
Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount is a one-off payment of £150 which is taken off your electricity bill or added to your prepayment meter over the winter months.
You get the payment automatically if your electricity supplier is part of the Warm Home Discount scheme and you claim a “qualifying benefit” and have high energy costs, or you or your partner receive the Guarantee Credit portion of Pension Credit.
In deciding, the Government will look at your circumstances on the “qualifying dates” - these dates have not yet been announced yet. If you think you could be eligible, you should keep a look out for when applications open.
Winter Fuel Payment
The Winter Fuel Payment is an annual one-off £300 tax-free payment for households that include someone born on or before 25 September 1956.
Last year it was paid alongside the £300 pensioner cost of living payment which meant eligible claimants received up to £600 to help with energy bills over the winter. This payment is happening again this year.
The amount you get is dependent on your specific circumstances such as if you live alone or with someone or claim certain benefits, and what you can get can be found on the Government's website here.
There are certain circumstances where an individual above state pension age does not qualify for Winter Fuel Payments. Find more information here.
Cold Weather Payments
Cold Weather Payments, worth £25, are paid by the DWP when an area of the UK experiences or is forecast to experience temperatures of under zero degrees for seven consecutive days.
The scheme runs from November 1 to March 31 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and to be eligible you must claim the following benefits:
Those receiving income support or income-based jobseeker’s allowance can get cold weather payments if they have a disability or pensioner premium, a child who is disabled, a child tax credit that includes a disability element, or a child under five living with them.
Scotland has got rid of the cold weather payment and replaced it with a new Winter Heating Payment, and unlike the cold weather payment, the Scottish payment does not depend on how cold the temperature gets.
It’s a yearly payment of £50 that’s paid automatically to those who are eligible.
The Household Support Fund
This fund was launched in 2021 to provide help for "vulnerable" households who were struggling with the rising cost of living. It was renewed again this year and will be running until April 2024.
Money has been given to each local council from the central Government to be used on a discretionary basis, meaning the councils decide how they spend the money and to who they will give it to.
Many councils help includes vouchers or cash to help with energy costs - you will need to check what your local council is offering to be sure.
Child Winter Heating Assistance
The Child Winter Heating Assistance is a £235.70 annual payment per disabled child and young person under 19 living in Scotland.
Finally, there are several charities that can offer you support and guidance if you are struggling to pay for your energy, or if you are in energy debt.
For wider debt help, speak to: