Published on Friday 17 April 2020 in Van News
Energy bills are often one of the largest monthly outgoing household expenses alongside rent or mortgage payments. With the vast majority of the UK population spending more time at home than ever during the Covid-19 lockdown, we've received a lot of questions about what support energy companies and the Government are offering.
In summary, both the Government and energy suppliers have agreed to put in place emergency measures aimed at helping prepayment customers (who may be unable to top up during the pandemic). These emergency measures include posting cards that are already loaded with credit to those people self-isolating, nominating someone else to top up for you or even adding credit to your meter as and when.
Will The Covid-19 Outbreak Stop Energy Getting To Homes?
Ofgem's own website states that during the Covid-19 outbreak "your energy supply won't be disrupted, and all suppliers and network companies are still working to the same rules and obligations that have been put in place".
The regulator goes on to confirm that it is in constant contact with Government, industry and consumer groups so it can protect all energy customers when and if any problems arise.
Ofgem has also taken the time to write to all suppliers asking energy companies to "take proactive measures to support prepayment meter customers, including customers in vulnerable circumstances".
Essentially, this now means that there's enough pressure from the Government and the industry regulator to ensure that energy companies will try and support any of their customers suffering financial hardship during the Covid-19 outbreak.
What Financial Support Is Available For Prepayment Customers?
First of all, your supply won't be cut off, disconnections of energy supply will not be allowed during the outbreak. Here's what Ofgem is advising customers on prepayment meters to do:
If you cannot top up your card yourself, ask someone you trust to do it for you. Don't forget to leave your meter box unlocked, especially if it is located outside of your home
Ofgem and energy companies are suggesting customers top up their cards a little more than usual each time - if they can afford to - to ensure there's credit on the card if it's really needed.
As ever, the advice from Vanarama mirrors that of the Government and Ofgem - if you are struggling to pay energy bills, contact your provider as soon as you can. They are being encouraged to treat everything on a case-by-case basis.
What Financial Support Is Available For Credit Customers?
Like prepayment customers, your supply won't be cut off – disconnections of energy supply will not be allowed during the outbreak.
Remember, Government guidance and Ofgem's advice states that all energy suppliers have agreed to provide support to anyone facing financial hardship, including debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused.
Contact your energy provider at your earliest convenience to discuss your options. They are instructed to treat all arrangements on a case-by-case basis and will tailor your options to suit your financial situation.
What Should You Do If You're Struggling To Pay Your Bills?
If you are struggling with money problems or are repaying a debt which is increasing your financial hardship during the Covid-19 outbreak, energy companies are being encouraged to provide you with a variety of options. They include:
Reviewing bill payment plans, including debt repayment plans.
Organising payment breaks or reductions in how much you pay on a monthly basis.
Increasing the amount of time you have to pay a bill.
Allowing you access to hardship funds.
If you cannot afford to pay for gas or electricity because you're self-isolating at home, support is available on a case-by-case basis from your energy supplier - they must take your financial situation into consideration while evaluating your options.
Can Switching Energy Suppliers Help Make My Bills Cheaper?
If you're struggling to pay your bills, switching energy suppliers or even the tariff you're on, could help at this difficult time. Most energy companies have a tariff structure that means you will automatically move to a standard tariff once your fixed term ends. If this has happened, or if you have been with your energy company a while and not looked into your tariff, you may be able to get a cheaper rate.
You could also reduce your monthly bills by switching to a different supplier! The best thing to do is first contact your current supplier to ensure you're on the cheapest tariff available. You could also check on sites like Uswitch to see if you could be getting a better deal elsewhere. Switching suppliers is usually much simpler than it seems and you could save yourself some money!
Is There Any Government Financial Support Available For People Working From Home?
If you are working from home, you can claim for costs such as heating and electricity. It works out to £6/week and can be paid to you in one of two ways:
Employers can pay you £6/week extra tax free - the simplest solution.
Or, you can claim tax relief on £6 of income per week by applying to HMRC for this as tax relief. As long as your claim takes place over the time you're working from home, you won't have to provide evidence of the extra spending, which is a major plus.
What Additional Support Is Available For Vulnerable People?
Vulnerable customers (they will be notified if they fit the definition of a vulnerable customer) can sign up to something called the Priority Services Register with their supplier. Once you get your name on the register, you'll be eligible for certain free services, including:
Prior notice of any power cuts.
Priority support in an emergency.
Communications from your supplier also sent to someone you've nominated (e.g. a carer).
Arrangements that ensure your prepayment meter is safe to use (if you have one).
Regular meter reads if you can't take a reading.
Who Do You Contact In The Event Of An Energy Supply Problem?
Your first port of call should always be your supplier if you have an energy supply problem (e.g. gas leak, faulty meter, etc), but you must tell them if you are self-isolating or feeling unwell.
If you experience a non-urgent energy supply problem, check your supplier's advice online, and contact them only if required.
If you experience a power cut call 105 (freephone) or visit www.powercut105.com. If the problem is more serious, also call the emergency services.