I Can't Afford My Electricity Bill: What Can I Do?

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Fuel poverty, when a household can't afford to keep their home at a temperature of 18 -21C and struggles with costs of lighting, water and other appliance usage, affects up to 3.5 million households in the UK according to the latest government statistics. With electricity prices on the rise and budgets under pressure from the recession, it's not that surprising that many of us are struggling with our bills. If you're having trouble paying your electricity bills there are provisions in place to help you out and ways you can reduce the cost of your household bills.

1. Contact your energy provider

Don't ignore the problem. If you get a bill through and you genuinely don't know how you're going to pay it then you should contact your energy provider immediately. They're obliged to work out a payment plan with you that you can afford so you can pay your bill off bit by bit.

2. Switch to a different tariff/ send off meter readings

Ask your energy provider if there are different tariffs available which might suit you better and reduce your bill. If you're on an estimated bill then you might be able to reduce the amount owe straight away by giving your provider your meter readings. Do it straight away and they'll be able to send out a new bill which takes into account your actual usage and is likely to be cheaper.

3. Energy Trusts

In really difficult circumstances you can get help from the trusts run by energy providers. EF and British Gas both run charitable trusts to help struggling customers.

4. Help with Debts

Unfortunately struggling with bills often leads to mounting debts. Free debt advice is readily available from various charities like National Debtline or CAB who can run through your finances with you.

How to prevent it happening again

Switch energy providers. Shopping around and switching energy providers can save you up to £300 a year according to Deals change often so it's recommended you switch your energy provider every year to keep up with the best offers. Fix priced deals are currently a good plan because energy prices are on the rise. Make sure you take up one which doesn't cost anything to leave so that, should a cheaper deal come around, you can easily switch providers without penalties.

Sort out your house: Energy efficient light bulbs, proper insulation and tiny things that draft covers and rugs will keep costs down. These are all really minor changes which can massively cut the costs of electric and gas bills.

So remember, if you're struggling don't panic but do face the problem head on. Ignoring debts or big bills will only get you into a stickier and stickier situation. There are provisions set up to ease the pressure of mounting utility bills so be pro-active, use them and take action to reduce your energy costs as much as you can.

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Published 2012/12/18

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