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Energy Advice from moneyplusenergy.com

What to do if you can’t top up your prepayment meter due to the impacts of Coronavirus.

Every domestic supplier has made a commitment to the government that they will support customers who are finding themselves in financial hardship due to the current public health issue and are unable to pay for their gas and electricity supply.

This could be because you can’t get to a shop to top up because you are unwell or are in isolation, or you have lost your income and cannot afford to pay for a top up.

You are not alone in this, and your supplier will help you to keep your gas and electricity turned on.

Make sure you contact them as quickly as you can to let them know of your situation.

Green Homes Grant Scheme

Under this new government scheme, vouchers worth up to £5,000 will be issued to homeowners in England to make their homes more energy efficient, helping to save on heating costs.

Eligible homeowners will be able to use the vouchers to pay for environmentally friendly improvements. This includes installing loft, floor and wall insulation or double-glazing.

What to do if you currently pay for your gas or electricity via a prepayment meter or pay as you go smart meter.

  1. If you cannot get to a shop, ask a trusted friend or neighbour if they can do this for you. Make sure they use your top-up key or card and not their own, as energy purchased on someone else’s card will not work in your meter.
  2. If you have a smart pay-as-you-go meter, you can quickly and easily top-up online. If you are not sure how to do this, call your supplier or check out their FAQ’s on their website.

Calling your supplier.

When you call your supplier, carefully explain to them your change in circumstances and how this is impacting your supply of gas and electricity.

It can sometimes be upsetting to have these conversations, especially if you are already feeling worried, so it’s worth writing down everything you want to say before you make the call. You could use this checklist to think about what you need to say on the call.

  1. Are you in any of the ‘at risk’ groups as identified by the government, or have a known vulnerability?
  2. Are you dependant upon electricity for specialist medical requirements?
  3. Are you unwell or isolating due to coronavirus?
  4. Has either your gas and/or electricity gone off-supply?
  5. Do you have any friends or family who could help you to top-up (if you are isolated)?
  6. Has your financial position changed? I.e. have you lost your income, or had a reduction in your income?
  7. Are you currently managing to top-up enough for the energy you are using, or are you regularly using your emergency credit?
  8. Do you think your current financial hardship is temporary? If so, do you know how long you expect this to last?
  9. Do you know if you are repaying a debt through your pre-payment meter? If you don’t know, ask your supplier to check this.
  10. If you are repaying a debt and want this to be reduced, how much can you afford to continue paying?
  11. How much can you realistically afford to pay each week on your gas and electricity?

Your energy supplier will then discuss the best solution for you, which may include one of those listed below.

Remember:  any credit that is provided to you during this time will need to be repaid in the future, so keeping your payments up when you can will be better in the long run.

Some of the solutions you may be offered by your energy supplier:

  1. If you are repaying a debt via your prepayment meter, ask your supplier if they can reduce or suspend this repayment. This will mean you will get more gas and electricity for your top-up however, the time it takes to repay your debt may increase., so you’ll need to be realistic on how much you can afford to pay.
  2. Your supplier may send you a pre-loaded top-up card. This may be offered if you cannot get out of your house and your meter has not turned off. This will need to be repaid, so make sure to ask your supplier how this will be done.
  3. Your supplier may send a metering agent to your property to increase the credit on your meter. This could be applicable if you are vulnerable and your meter has turned off.  Please note that if you or someone in your household has symptoms of Coronavirus, you must inform your supplier of this so that appropriate processes can be put in place. This will need to be repaid, so make sure to ask your supplier how this will be done.
  4. Your supplier may send a message to your meter to add additional credit. This may require you to visit a local shop to pick up the message or may go straight to your meter. This will need to be repaid, so make sure to ask your supplier how this will be done.
  5. If you have a pay-as-you-go smart meter, your supplier may switch your meter to operate in ‘credit mode’. This will mean you will not need to top-up and your supply will continue as normal. You will need to pay back any energy you use during this period so make sure you speak to your supplier about how this will happen.

What to do if you currently pay for your gas or electricity via a fixed direct debit or pay when you receive a bill.

Your supplier will do everything they can to help you with your gas and electricity payments during this time.

It can be tempting to avoid calling your supplier to discuss your financial situation, but the earlier you speak to them the easier it will be for you to receive support.

Writing a checklist before you call can be helpful, especially if you are feeling worried about your current situation.

You may find it helpful to use the below as a guide:

  1. Are you in any of the ‘at risk’ groups as identified by the government, or otherwise have a known vulnerability?
  2. Are you dependent upon electricity for specialist medical requirements?
  3. Are you unwell or isolating due to Coronavirus?
  4. Have you received contact from your energy supplier or third party chasing payment for your energy supply?
  5. Has your financial position changed? I.e. have you lost your income, or had a reduction in your income?
  6. Are you currently managing to cover the payments for your energy, or have these payments failed (or are likely to fail)?
  7. Do you think your current hardship is temporary? If so, do you know how long you expect this to last?
  8. Do you know if you are repaying a debt in your monthly payment? If you are not sure, you can ask your supplier to check this.
  9. If you are repaying a debt and want this to be reduced, how much can you afford to continue paying?
  10. How much can you realistically afford to pay each week/month for your gas and electricity?

It is important that you continue to pay for your gas and electricity, as any energy used will need to be repaid in the future. Your energy supplier will work with you to find the best solution.

Some of the options you could ask for could include:

  1. Changing your payment date. This will help if you get paid on a certain day or are expecting to receive some financial support from friends or family on a specific date in the future.
  2. Checking your direct debit is set at the correct amount. If you think you are paying too much every month, maybe because you have a credit balance on the bill, you could ask your supplier to check your direct debit amount.

Please note, this will not always result in a reduction to your payment.

  1. If you are repaying a debt within your monthly payment, you could ask for this to be reduced or suspended temporarily.
  2. A temporary reduction of your direct debit payment to an amount you can afford. If this is less than the energy you use, then this will need to be repaid in the future, so make sure you talk to your supplier about how this will happen.
  3. If you cannot afford to pay for a bill you have received, your supplier should work with you to set up a regular payment plan. They will check how much you can afford to pay.
  4. An extension on the amount of time you have to pay your bill.
  5. Check that your supplier has up to date meter readings.
  6. You may be able to repay your energy debt directly from your benefit payments. This is not always applicable. To discuss this further, speak to your energy supplier and the job centre.
  7. Ask if any late payment charges can be removed. Most suppliers will remove charges when they can see the customer is trying to work towards a solution however, this will depend on their internal policies.
  8. Energy suppliers have agreed not to disconnect domestic customers during the current public health issue. If you are still receiving contact from your supplier regarding disconnection, speak to them urgently or seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0344 411 1444.
  9. If you are in extreme financial hardship, a number of suppliers offer grants to support their customers to repay their debt. Speak to your supplier to find out if they have a scheme or check your eligibility.

Other help available.

If you would like more information on switching your energy supplier, to reduce your gas and electricity bills, call MoneyPlus Energy on 0161 837 4747 or email theteam@moneyplusenergy.com

If you are struggling to pay for your gas and electricity because of other financial commitments, then help may be available.

Contact MoneyPlus Advice on 0161 837 4000, or email us at info@moneyplus.com for helpful, no-obligation debt advice.

To find out more about managing your debt and receiving free debt advice, visit the Money Advice Service, or read options for paying off your debt.