Get help paying your energy bills
The number of people struggling to pay their energy bills has risen by 10% in the last year, according to the Money Advice Trust. The trust runs National Debtline and has seen a 181% increase in the number of people it speaks to experiencing fuel debts.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of Money Advice Trust describes fuel debts as "one of the fastest growing problems" National Debtline has dealt with.
Elson's comments are backed up by recent research from Scottish Widows, which reports 17 million Brits admit neglecting their finances. A significant proportion (21%) claim they have too much debt to feel financially secure, while a further 32% say they are not paid enough.
Another 25% admit they avoid thinking about money matters in their day-to-day lives.
However, Elson points out that ignoring fuel arrears has serious repercussions:
"Fuel debts should be treated as a priority debt as gas and electricity companies are free to cut off your supply within a few weeks if you don't pay them."
What to do if you can't pay your energy bills
If you're struggling to pay your gas and electric the first thing you should do is contact your energy provider and let them know you are struggling. You should be able to work out a payment plan. This shows you are willing to pay back your debts - you just need a longer timeframe.
Your provider may also be able to help review if you should switch to a different tariff to suit your energy needs better. It could be that you're on estimated billing and paying for more gas and electric than you use.
If your arrears are particularly high you may have to change to a prepaid meter. The advantage of these is that you pay for exactly what you use, plus a bit extra to start paying back your debts, but the rates are not the cheapest.
How i cut my energy bills in half
Depending on what benefits you receive, you can get the department of Work and Pensions to deduct weekly amounts from your benefit payments, so that the money goes towards clearing your debts straightaway.
You can do this with income support, pension credit, income–related employment and support allowance or income–based Jobseeker's allowance.
Take advantage of the free debt advice provided by charities like the National Debtline and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, as well as your local citizens advice bureau.
They can help you draw up a budget and see other areas where you may be able to cut back.
In extremely difficult circumstances ask your fuel company if you can get any financial support from its charitable arm. British Gas and EDF, for example, run energy trusts to assist struggling customers.
You will need to provide evidence such as the most up to date bills or payment demands and also be able to prove that help clearing your debts will enable you to budget better in the future.
“Arrears” tend to be associated with debt. If you fall behind and miss payments on any outstanding debt, the amount you failed to pay is an arrear – the amount accrued from the date on which the first missed payment was due.