Rising energy bills are contributing to an increase in people looking for additional funds to help them cover their essential spending. In 2018, debt and money charity StepChange’s Behind on the Basics report noted that 13% of people who came to them for advice were behind on their electricity and gas bill payments.
If you’ve received an energy bill you weren’t expecting, or if your regular bills have become unexpectedly high, then taking out a loan to pay the bill is unlikely to be the best choice, and instead you should contact your energy supplier, who is bound by a code of conduct to help. This guide from Sunny can help you understand the steps to take in resolving an unexpected or expensive bill with your energy company, and how to avoid being caught out by this again in the future.
Average cost of energy bills in the UK
|Energy||Average cost per month||Cost over year|
|Total||£130 per month||£1,560 per year|
What to do if you get an unexpected energy bill
All energy suppliers follow a code of conduct that means they must take certain steps to help you before cutting your supply. If you’ve received an energy bill that is more expensive than you thought it would be, or has come out of the blue, and you’re not able to pay it from your normal disposable income, then follow these steps to pay the bill and, if you’re not able to, get the help that you need:
- Use savings to pay the bill – If you have savings, use these towards what you owe your energy supplier. It may mean that if you’re saving towards a specific goal you don’t reach it quite so quickly, but it’s important your energy bill is paid. Failing to do so may mean you have to have a prepayment meter installed, which can end up being more expensive, or in the worst case scenario, your supply may be cut off.
- Look at cutting your costs or increasing your income – Can you free up money from somewhere else in your budget to cover the cost of this energy bill? Or, perhaps you’re overdue a clear out and can make some money by selling items you no longer want or need online. Use the money you make to pay your energy bill.
- Ask friends and family for help – Your parents, siblings or close friends may be able to lend you the cash you need to cover the cost of your bill. Make sure you both agree when and how you’ll pay them back.
- Call your energy provider – If you’re not able to cover the cost of your bill or increased payments by another means, contact your energy supplier’s customer services team as soon as you realise this and explain the situation. They’ll be able to check that the bill you’ve received is correct, and if it is, help you to understand the options available to pay the bill in a more affordable way. The code of practice that all energy suppliers follow means they should help you set up a reasonable repayment plan to pay off your bill in instalments
How to avoid large energy bills in the future
There are ways to cut back the costs of your energy bills to avoid overly large bills coming through the letterbox.
Check there is nothing causing the rise in price
Sometimes a faulty appliance, a broken meter or simple human error can impact the result of your bill. To rule any of these out, this is how to check:
- Switch off all the appliances in your home, then go out and check to see if the meter is ticking over or registering any gas or electric at all. If it is continuing to move then this means the meter is likely faulty.
- If the meter doesn’t move, go back into your home and turn on each appliance one by one, checking the meter after each one. If the meter moves or ticks over quickly, this may mean you have a faulty appliance on your hands.
- Check that you’re reading your meter correctly, and that you understand your tariff. You’d be surprised how often misinterpreting where the decimal point belongs can result in incorrect reporting and larger than expected bills!
Try to use less energy
Easier said than done but small changes can make a big difference. According to the Energy Saving Trust, you could save £30 a year simply by turning appliances off at the wall rather than leaving them on standby mode when not in use. You may need to leave devices such as your Wi-Fi or satellite box on, as well as essentials like your fridge and freezer, but anything else can be turned off and unplugged when you’re not using it.
If you think you’re already doing everything you can to keep your energy bills down, think outside the box! Our Good Vibes guide has some unusual but effective suggestions! For example, spending a minute less in the shower each day could also knock £7 off your water bill each year per person in your household.
Have a smart meter installed
Energy suppliers have been gradually rolling out smart meters over the last few years. You may have been offered one by your supplier already and have opted out, but you can re-consider your choice if you change your mind. Having a smart meter installed allows you to carefully monitor how much energy you’re using day by day, so you can identify which times of day and days of the week are the most expensive for you and look for opportunities to cut costs. Smart meters also report your meter readings back to your energy supplier automatically, eliminating any opportunity for missed communication or human error.
Consider switching energy supplier or tariff
You can avoid costly bills by reducing the amount your energy costs overall. The vast majority of people never switch energy provider and so are missing out on the savings to be had from switching. Use a comparison site to look around and find an energy supplier that provides what you need, for less. You might also be able to make bigger savings by signing up to an Economy 7 tariff, where you receive different rates for the electricity you use during the day, and that which you use overnight. Make the most of Economy 7 rates by running electricity-hungry appliances like a storage heater, dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer during the cheaper overnight period, and avoid running them during the daytime.
Look into benefits and grants available
There are a range of grants and cost-saving benefits schemes available, we’ve listed some of these below. Look into them to determine if you are eligible to save some money when it comes to your energy.
- The Winter Fuel Payment – This is an annual one-off payment of £100 to £300 to cover the cost of heating during the winter and is available to those born on or before the 5th August 1953. Find out more here.
- Warm Home Discount Scheme – This scheme may be available if you are on a low income or receiving the guarantee credit element of Pension Credit. Not all suppliers offer this scheme but if you are eligible and your supplier can help, you could enjoy a saving of £140 on your electricity bill.
- See if your energy supplier offers grants – Certain suppliers provide grants via a charitable trust to help you pay your bills and British Gas, E.on, EDF, npower and Scottish Power offer this.
- Cold Weather Payments – If the average temperature in your area is forecasted to be below zero degrees for seven consecutive days, between November and March, you can apply for Cold Weather Payments which are a one-off payment to help you pay higher bills. Those who receive Income Support, Pension Credit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Universal Credit or income-related Employment and Support Allowance are eligible to apply.
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Need a loan?
If you’ve considered all your options to cover the cost of a larger than expected energy bill and have decided you need a loan for your utility bill, we can help. With short-term loans from £100 to £2,500 available, we offer a lifeline when unexpected bills land.
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Sources checked April 2019: