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Priority debts - gas and electricity

The gas and electricity companies can cut off your supply in a few weeks if you don't pay them. No court is involved in this decision. It is important to contact them to make a payment arrangement as early as possible.

Checking liability for the bill
If you are not the person named on the bill, e.g. it is in the name of someone who has left your home, you may not be liable to pay the arrears up to the date they left.

You can dispute liability with the fuel company and also contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 or via the Consumer Direct website. This should stop your fuel being cut off until the dispute has been sorted out.

How do I make an arrangement?
Bills for gas and electricity are issued quarterly. The fuel company will usually want the bill paid before the next bill is due. You can ask to pay your bills weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. If you have arrears, phone or write to the company and ask for a payment arrangement.
Use your personal budget to support your offer of payment. This must cover the cost of the fuel you are using and an amount off the arrears. Even if the company does not agree to your offer, start paying what you have offered immediately. Do not offer to pay more than you can afford towards the arrears. All fuel companies should agree under their code of practice to accept an offer of repayment at a rate that you can afford.

Most fuel companies will not disconnect you if:

  • you agree to a payment arrangement
  • you agree to have a pre-payment meter installed (be wary of this - they can work out expensive, and will leave you without fuel if you run out of tokens)
  • the debt belongs to a person who lived in your house before you
  • If it is between October and March and all the adults in the household are over retirement age.

Some companies will also agree not to disconnect the supply between these times if the adults in the household have a severe illness.

How do I avoid having my fuel cut off?
You must keep paying for the fuel you are using and an amount off your debt even while you are trying to make an arrangement. To work this out, add up your last four bills to find out the total amount for the year, then divide by 52 to work out how much fuel you use each week.

If your bills are high check that your account has not been based on estimates. Ask the fuel company to take an accurate reading, or give them an accurate reading by reading the meters yourself.

The company should accept the following arrangements:

  • Instalments - weekly or monthly instalments paying off the whole amount before the next quarterly bill arrives
  • Budget plans - you pay a fixed amount weekly, fortnightly or monthly - the amounts are the same all year round.
  • Direct payments - If you get Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance you can ask the Benefits Agency to take weekly deductions from your benefit and pay them directly to the gas or electricity company.
Other help
Contact the Social Services Department of your local council or Benefits Agency for help. The fuel company will delay cutting you off if they are told the Social Services or Benefits Agency are looking into your case. They will usually hold action for 10 working days but may agree to delay longer. This could give you time to make an arrangement to pay. The Children's Act 1989 gives Social Services the power to make payments to families with children in certain circumstances.

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