STRUGGLING households will get extra help paying their energy bills and topping up their meters from tomorrow.
From December 15, suppliers will have to offer emergency credit to customers to top-up their prepayment meter if they can't pay their bills.
As well as help for those struggling financially, customers will be eligible for support if they can't get to their local shop to top-up because of a mobility issue or due to self-isolation.
Suppliers will also have to offer extra prepayment credit to households in vulnerable circumstances to provide more breathing space.
The new rules have been made permanent by regular Ofgem after providers voluntarily agreed to support vulnerable customers during the coronavirus crisis.
Ofgem hopes the new measures will reduce the number of prepayment customers who go without energy or “self-disconnect” after running out of credit on their meter.
What type of top-up does my energy supplier have to provide?
HERE’S what help you might be offered by your energy supplier to to top-up your energy meter – just be aware they you usually have to repay this extra credit when you next top up.
This is a fixed amount of credit provided to customers when their meter runs low or runs out to ensure continuity of supply.
Friendly hours credit
This is a top-up provided overnight, at weekends and public holidays, when top up points may be closed and a customer’s prepayment meter runs low or runs out.
Additional support credit
This is provided to customers in vulnerable circumstances who may have exhausted other options.
Of the four million households using pay-as-you-go prepayment meters, where you top-up energy in advance, around one in seven (571,000) had self-disconnected their supply in the past 12 months, according to Ofgem.
Another new rule being introduced from tomorrow will see customers in energy debt put on on "realistic and sustainable" repayment plans.
This means suppliers will have to proactively contact customers and offer tailor-made help, rather than using blanket methods to set repayments.
Energy firms must also improve how they identify customers who are self-disconnecting or who might be self-rationing their energy use.
What to do if you can’t pay your bills
FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.
If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.
Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.
One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable instalments.
You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.
A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.
To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income support
- income-related employment and support allowance
- Pension credit
- Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)
If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.
In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.
The new help comes after Ofgem lowered the maximum price suppliers can charge for electricity and gas from £1,254 to £1,179.
It means households are saving £75 a year on their energy bills, after the price cut came into force from October 1.
Confirming the rules in October, Philippa Pickford, director of retail at Ofgem, said: “Customers who are struggling to pay their bills should contact their supplier as soon as possible.
"The extra protections we have announced today will help ensure they get some breathing space this winter."
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of charity Citizens Advice, added: “We’ve been pressing for the measures agreed between government and energy suppliers to help people through the coronavirus pandemic to be extended and widened.
"We’re very pleased to see this announcement from the regulator."
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