Coronavirus energy amnesty is over

Ofgem has given energy suppliers the green light to chase up unpaid energy bills as the energy amnesty appears to be going the same way as lockdown and the two-metre social distancing rules.

But what does this mean for households still affected by the coronavirus lockdown, particularly those who are struggling financially?

Between 1 July 2019 and 31 December 2019, at least 10% of people who switched energy supplier for both gas & electricity with Uswitch saved £479 or more.

Energy suppliers to chase unpaid bills

As the UK went into lockdown late in March, it quickly became clear that money was going to be tight in households right across the country. To help out beleaguered households, UK energy suppliers agreed to emergency measures to help those customers who are most at risk.

For customers on a credit meter, suppliers agreed to reassess debt repayments and bill payments, with a view to seeing them paused or cut, if necessary, and also agreed that no households would be cut off at this time.

For those on prepayment meters, it was agreed that no supplies would be cut off and customers could have a discretionary fund added to their account or get a pre-loaded top-up card sent out to them.

But it seems this amnesty is now over as Ofgem, the energy regulator, has agreed to let energy suppliers chase unpaid energy bills again, citing that an open ended delay on debt collections isn’t in the interests of suppliers or customers.

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, said: “"We recognise that suppliers cannot extend unlimited credit to customers - nor is this in customers' interests overall - and we anticipate suppliers will begin to restart debt management activities that may have been paused during the immediate crisis.”

This means that if you’ve fallen into arrears with your supplier you may well be chased for payment. But the regulator has warned but warned suppliers off being aggressive in their pursuits, and bailiffs are banned from doorstepping people for debts until August 24.

On the use of any aggressive tactics from suppliers, Brearley added: “"We will not tolerate sharp practice or aggressive debt collection and suppliers could face enforcement action where this is the case.”

Even so, this will come as little consolation to anyone who’s still struggling financially. There are still options open to you though.

What to do if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills

Regardless of Ofgem’s decision to essentially let suppliers off the leash, if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills your supplier still has to take your current situation into account when looking to reclaim any arrears on your account.

Arrange a repayment plan

The first thing you need to do is speak to your supplier to arrange a repayment plan. This will involve gradually paying down the debt by paying a fixed amount each month on top of your regular payments for the energy you’re currently using.

Your supplier must take into account the amount you can reasonably afford to pay, so you’ll need to give them a breakdown of your income and expenditure so you can come to an agreement that suits both parties.

They’ll also have to consider the energy you’re currently using as this will also affect the amount you can afford to repay, so it’s likely you’ll have to send regular meter readings to make sure you’re getting billed accurately.

Whatever you do, don’t be pressured into paying more than you can afford as this will only end up making your situation worse.

If you’re on benefits, you might be able to repay your debt directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme. You can find out more on our guide to Fuel Direct.

What if you can’t agree to a payment plan?

If you can’t come to arrangement with your supplier, or you miss any repayments, your supplier might place you on a prepayment meter until the debt is repaid - try to avoid this, if possible, as prepayment energy tariffs are a lot more expensive than other fixed rate tariffs available to customers on credit meters.

If you’re in debt, you might also be stopped from switching energy suppliers.

If you have an outstanding energy debt with your current supplier, and the money has been owed 28 days or more, then your move can be blocked until this debt has been paid. Your supplier might insist on installing a prepayment meter to help pay off the money owed.

If you already have a prepayment meter installed, you can switch suppliers unless you owe more than £500 for gas or £500 for electricity. When you switch, you’ll need to ask the new supplier to agree to transfer your debt along with your supply (this is called the ‘Debt Assignment Protocol’).

Find out more at Can your energy supplier stop you switching?

Is any other help available?

If you’re struggling to make ends meet, you might be eligible for a grant from a charitable trust. Check out the Charis Grants charity website for more information and to see if they can help you with an application. It’s also worth speaking to Citizens Advice.

A number of energy suppliers also offer grants, schemes and vouchers, and you don’t have to be a customer to qualify.

Fuel Bank fromNpower, for instance is available at selected UK Foodbank sites and provides an energy top up voucher for prepayment meter customers deemed in ‘crisis need’ by an independent foodbank referrer. And you don’t need to be an Npower customer to qualify. Find out more at https://www.npower.com/about-npower/fuel-bank/

If you’re a vulnerable, disabled or elderly customer, or you get benefits, check whether you can get other help paying your energy bills.

Switch energy supplier to save money

Switching energy supplier is the best way to save money on your energy bills. Switch with UKPower to hundreds of pounds off the costs of your annual energy bills - savings that could make a huge difference, especially if you’re struggling to make ends meet.

To compare energy deals and see how much you could save, just enter your postcode in the box at the top of the page. The comparison will only take a few minutes, and once you’ve chosen a deal you like, we’ll handle the rest of the switch for you - you should be with your new supplier and saving money within 21 days.

How to switch energy supplier

Click here to run an energy price comparison, and see if you could be paying less for your gas and electricity.

Les Roberts - Energy Expert at UKPower

Les Roberts - Energy Expert at UKPower

If you’ve got an issue with your energy supplier, our consumer champion Les is on hand to help. A decade in consumer affairs means Les understands how confusing energy tariffs can be, so he'll cut through the jargon to help make sure you get the best deal.