Social Justice

Energy bills fall but millions are still struggling. What do I do if I can't afford to pay?

Energy bills are still high even as Ofgem drops the price cap. Here's everything you need to know, including where to get help if you can't afford to pay

energy bills

Energy bills will be more expensive for some people, including those who use a prepayment meter. Image: Unsplash

Energy bills have fallen from July for millions of households, which should bring some relief as the cost of living crisis continues to take its toll.

Ofgem’s new energy price cap means that a typical household will pay £1,568 a year for gas and electricity, which is the lowest energy bills have been in two years.

Every three months, the energy regulator reviews and updates the price cap to reflect changes in the cost of energy and inflation.

The energy price cap doesn’t mean that your household bills can’t exceed £1,568 – some households will pay more and others less. It all depends on how much energy you use, as well as your circumstances like where you live and the energy efficiency of your property.

But if you are still struggling to pay your energy bills, you are far from alone. Research from Citizens Advice from earlier this year found that more than 5.3 million people were living in households in debt to their energy supplier.

Meanwhile, the Financial Conduct Authority found that more than seven million people are still struggling to pay their essential bills because of the high cost of living.

The government is providing less support to people who need help to pay their energy bills this year. It did not repeat the energy rebate this winter, which was a lifeline £400 discount on energy bills for all households.

Energy bills are also expected to rise again in October, just as people need to start turning on their heating again. Cornwall Insight predicts that a typical household’s annual bill will be back up to £1,723, which is an annual increase of £155.

It’s important to make sure that you are getting all the support you are eligible for in the cost of living crisis. Here is everything you need to know about the energy price cap, how much bills are going up, the government support for energy bills, energy grants offered by suppliers and charities and what your rights are if you can’t afford to pay.

What is the current energy price cap?

Ofgem has set the energy price cap at £1,568 a year for a typical household between July and October 2024. That’s a fall of 7% and equates to roughly £10 a month less in comparison to the previous rate.

It essentially means that average households will pay just over £130 per month for the first three months of this year for their energy bills. But if your household uses more energy than average, you may pay more.

Will energy bills rise in 2024?

Energy bills are likely set to rise in October 2024. According to estimates by consultancy Cornwall Insight, the price cap will be up again in the autumn to around £1,723.



What benefits can I get from the government to help pay my energy bills?

If you are struggling with money, you may be eligible for benefits and welfare support. If you’re not sure where to start, Citizens Advice offers information and services to help people and they can advise you as to what financial support is available from the government to help you. 

You could be entitled to benefits and tax credits if you are working or unemployed, sick or disabled, a parent, a young person, an older person or a veteran. You can use the charity Turn2Us’ benefits calculator to find out what benefits you are entitled to claim. 

The government’s Help for Households website explains what support you could be eligible for – such as cost of living payments.

There are also specific benefits you can get through winter to help with your energy bills – including the winter fuel payment, cold weather payment and winter heating payment in Scotland. Keep an eye out for when these open up again in the winter months.

The cost of living payment has also come to an end, unfortunately. More schemes will open to help with your energy bills in the coming months.

How to get the warm home discount to help with energy bills from October 2024

You could get £150 off your electricity bill for winter with the warm home discount. This is a one-off discount applied to your electricity bill between early October and the end of March. 

This is paid to people who get the guarantee element of pension credit, or those who are on a low income and have high energy costs. You’ll usually get the discount automatically if you’re eligible and based in England or Wales.

For people based in Scotland, you’ll get it automatically if you get the guarantee element of pension credit, but you might have to apply to your supplier if you are on a low income in Scotland. It is not available in Northern Ireland. Find out more here.

How to get the affordable warmth scheme in Northern Ireland

The affordable warmth scheme in Northern Ireland is paid to people who have an income of less than £23,000 a year, and it is to help make your home more energy efficient so that you are paying less for your bills. It is not available to people living in social housing. 

To make an application to the Affordable Warmth Scheme, people can contact the NI Energy Advice Service by phoning 0800 111 44 55 or emailing NIenergyadvice@nihe.gov.uk

How to get the discretionary assistance fund in Wales

In Wales, there is the discretionary assistance fund. This includes an emergency assistance grant, which helps cover essential costs, such as food, gas, electricity, clothing or emergency travel if you are experiencing extreme financial hardship, have lost your job or are waiting for your first benefits payment. You should apply through the Welsh government’s website. 

How to get help from the finance support service in Northern Ireland 

The finance support service supports people who live in Northern Ireland and need short-term financial help. This includes discretionary support to help towards short-term living expenses or household items. You can apply to the finance support service here.

How to get a grant from your energy supplier to help pay your energy bills in 2024

A number of energy suppliers offer grants to their customers to help them pay their energy bills. Contact your energy supplier if you are struggling and they may be able to help. We’ve listed a few grants available below:

How to get British Gas grants

British Gas grants are available to everyone who has an energy debt of up to £2,000 and you don’t have to be a British Gas customer. This includes the Individual and Families Debt Write Off Fund. 

You’ll need to seek help from your local money advice centre first and be able to show that you’ve thought about how you will manage your costs in the future. Apply for a grant and get advice from the British Gas Energy Trust through its website.

How to get the Scottish Power Hardship Fund

Scottish Power has a fund to help low-income households get their energy payments under control. It can help by clearing or reducing arrears by crediting a customer’s ScottishPower energy account.

How to get EDF Customer Support Fund

EDF provides support for individuals struggling to manage household energy debt through their customer support fund. You can apply here.

How to get E.ON Next Energy Fund

This fund could help you pay your current or final E.ON Next energy bills and potentially replace old appliances. You can apply on E.ON’s website.

How to get help to pay energy bills through the Octopus Octo Assist Fund

If you’re an Octopus customer, you can access its financial support form on its website. It asks you a series of questions about your financial situation. The company offers a number of support options including access to existing schemes, monetary support from the Octo Assist Fund, or a loan of a thermal imagery camera to find heat leaks at home.

How to get charitable grants to help pay your energy bills 

People who are struggling financially may be eligible for charitable grants this winter. You can find out what grants might be available to you using Turn2Us’ grant search. There are a huge range of grants available for different people – including those who are bereaved, disabled, unemployed, redundant, ill, a carer, veteran, young person or old person.

Grants are also usually available to people who have no recourse to public funds and cannot claim welfare benefits. Turn2Us helps people to access grants and support services if they’re in financial difficulty. If you contact them, they’ll check what’s available to you. 

Glasspool gives small grants for things like white goods, beds, bedding, children’s clothing and baby needs. For most charitable grants, you need to get a referral from a professional like a social worker, health professional, school or advice service.

Family Action provides practical, emotional and financial support to those who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage and social isolation across the country. You could also contact a recognised debt advice agency such as Step Change Debt Charity or the Debt Advice Foundation for advice if you are struggling with debt.

How to get help from your local council if you can’t pay your energy bills

If you are unable to pay your bills, your local council may have a scheme that can help you. Local councils may be able to give you debt advice, help you get hold of furniture, support you through food and fuel poverty. 

Councils across the country are organising measures to help local residents this winter in the cost of living crisis. It is worth checking out their website or contacting them directly if you need any support this winter. Your council may have a local welfare assistance scheme, also known as crisis support. Find out what support your council offers through End Furniture Poverty’s local welfare assistance finder.

How to find a warm bank near you if you can’t afford to heat your home

If you are struggling to pay your heating bills, warm banks could be a lifeline. Warm Welcome has a virtual map of warm spaces, making it much easier to find one near you. All you need to do is type in your postcode and you’ll be able to find any warm spaces registered with the campaign in your area. 

Another way to find a warm bank near you is to look on your local council’s website or contact it directly. Even if it is not running a warm bank itself, it should be able to direct you to a charity or other community organisation which is offering support this winter.

What are your rights if you can’t afford to pay your energy bills?

If your bills are too expensive and you can’t afford them, your energy supplier has an obligation to help, as regulated by Ofgem. They might be able to create a payment plan for you, and you can ask for emergency credit if you use a prepayment meter and can’t top up. You should complain to your supplier in the first instance if you don’t think you’re being treated fairly.  

If that doesn’t work, you can escalate your complaint. Simon Francis, from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, advises people to write to their MP as this can often prompt energy firms to act. You can also bring complaints to the energy ombudsman. Find out more about your rights if you can’t afford to pay your energy bills here.

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