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Gas and Electricity Arrears
Debt Advice Team - Birmingham City Council
If you have arrears of gas or electricity, you need to sort out the problem as soon as possible, otherwise you risk having your supply cut off. Do not ignore other debts such as credit cards, catalogues or loans but you should talk to gas and electric suppliers first.
PAYING OFF YOUR ARREARS
Contact your fuel provider straight away to see if you can come to an agreement as to how you can pay off the arrears. Check your bill to see if the meter readings are estimated or actual. If the latest reading is estimated, give your supplier an up to date reading and whilst you are in contact with them you can often make a payment arrangement for any arrears at the same time. You will need to provide them with a statement of your income and expenditure and, on the basis of this, they should accept an affordable amount. If you make an arrangement that you then have difficulty keeping to, you may have no choice but to have a prepayment meter instead. If you feel that the supplier is trying to get you to pay more than you can afford you should seek further advice before agreeing to anything.
SHORT TERM ARRANGEMENTS
If you think your financial problems are only temporary, you can agree to a short term arrangement. You could then pay your outstanding balance in instalments as long as you clear the arrears before the next bill arrives. Be careful to ensure that you agree to payments that you can afford otherwise a more long term arrangement may be more appropriate
PAYING IN MONTHLY INSTALLMENTS
If you need longer to pay off the arrears you will need to set up a Payment Plan. If you normally pay for your fuel through a credit meter, you can arrange to pay in monthly instalments in addition to your normal payments. Some suppliers will allow a Payment Plan to clear the arrears along with a prepayment meter which is set to pay for your current fuel use only. Your supplier will calculate the amount you should pay and agree that you should repay weekly, fortnightly or monthly. You should only be expected to pay off the arrears at a level that you can afford.
If you’re facing disconnection, or have not been able to keep to a payment plan, the fuel supplier may offer to install a prepayment meter. You may have to accept the prepayment meter if you want to keep your gas or electricity supply. This will allow you to pay a fixed amount off your arrears at the same time as paying for the fuel you want to use. For electricity you pay with a token or key and for gas you use a smart card which you get charged up at local stores or garages. If you do not recharge your token, key or card, you will run out of fuel. The supplier must make sure that they collect your arrears at a rate which takes into account your ability to pay. If you are on benefits, you should be allowed to have your arrears deducted from your benefit instead of using a prepayment meter.
DEDUCTIONS FROM YOUR BENEFITS BY FUEL DIRECT
If you are on certain benefits, you can pay your fuel arrears in small weekly amounts which are deducted from your benefit. This is called third party deductions or Fuel Direct. You must be getting income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support or Pension Credit. The amount deducted is fixed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This way of paying off the fuel arrears may be cheaper and more convenient for you than using a prepayment meter. It means that you cannot run out of gas or electricity, which can happen with prepayment metering. If you want to have deductions made from your benefits to pay off your fuel arrears, you should get in touch with Jobcentre Plus and your fuel supplier. Jobcentre Plus will then contact your supplier directly to check that they agree with you paying this way. You may want to contact an experienced independent adviser as well to help you to arrange it.
GRANTS TO PAY OFF YOUR ARREARS
Some gas and electricity companies have set up independent charitable trusts that you can apply to for grants to help pay for gas and electricity arrears. For more information contact the trust funds directly. British Gas Trust Fund (BGTF) provides a booklet listing all the water and fuel trust funds. See below for contact details.
WINTER FUEL AND COLD WEATHER
You may be entitled to additional help if you are on benefits. If you are a pensioner you should get a Winter Fuel payment. If you are on Income Support, income based Job Seekers Allowance or income related Employment and Support allowance or Pension Credit you should get cold weather payments automatically when the temperature drops below zero degrees for seven consecutive days. For more information visit www.gov.uk and search for either winter fuel or cold weather. There is also a Winter Fuel Helpline on 0845 9151515.
Your fuel supplier cannot cut you off without sending you a disconnection notice, which they cannot do until at least 28 days after they send your bill. They must give you at least seven days written notice before they disconnect you. Actual disconnection is rare as long as you pay for your fuel and agree to pay something towards the arrears or accept the use of a prepayment meter. If you do get a disconnection notice, get advice as soon as possible. Some groups of customers may have extra protection from being disconnected. This may apply if you are of pensionable age, have long-term ill-health or disabilities. Make sure the fuel company knows this when you get in touch with them.
FURTHER HELP AND INFORMATION
|The Home Heat Helpline
advice for people worried about paying fuel bills and keeping warm in the winter
0800 33 66 99
Citizens Advice Self-Help website
www.adviceguide.org.uk Click on the Consumer menu and look for Energy and Water Supply
|Phone enquires 08454 04 05 06|
|The following charitable trusts are funded by energy providers and offer help to people who are having difficulty paying their fuel bills.|
British Gas Trust Fund (BGTF)
|EDF Energy Trust|
|Trust Fund Application Line||
If you require advice on the best course of action to take to deal with your debts, contact the Debt Advice Line on 0121 303 2087
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