How to prevent an energy bill shock

Lockdown measures have meant many of us are using more gas and electricity than we would usually, with experts warning that we could be hit with a potential bill shock later.

The Clyde Wind Farm in the Southern Uplands of Scotland near Biggar. It is one of europes largest incorporating 152 wind turbines that produce 350 MW and covers 47 square kilomtres

UK energy customers could be in debt by an average of £94 per household by the end of the summer, according to data by comparison site energyhelpline, resulting in a £2.6bn debt nationwide. It has calculated that customers who pay their energy bills by direct debit are likely to be underbilled by around 30% as suppliers’ predictions, used to calculate monthly direct debits, won’t have factored in increased energy use during lockdown.

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Tom Lyon, director of energy for energyhelpline, said: “Under normal circumstances, we’d currently be experiencing low energy use coming into summer. But this pandemic is anything but normal, with energy debts quietly piling up across the nation, leading to what may be yet another strain on household finances this winter. Households may find themselves in debt by £94 or more in just a few months.

Avoiding energy debt

There are several ways to avoid ending up owing your energy supplier money.

First, make sure you’re on the most competitive energy tariff possible. You can still switch supplier even if you are already in energy debt, but the debt must be less than 28 days old. Comparison sites such as Energhelpline, MoneySuperMarket and uSwitch enable you to search for the cheapest deals and it’s also worth considering collective switches, where a group of people gets together through a third party and energy suppliers bid to offer them a cheap energy deal. The scheme organiser then selects the best deal from the offers it received.

You should also regularly take meter readings so that your supplier sends you accurate bills. This will enable you to see whether you’re not paying enough. If your payments don’t cover your bills, arrange to increase your Direct Debit. If you do this, then you could end up with a surplus which may provide invaluable during the winter months when your energy costs will increase. If you build up a significant amount of credit, you can ask your supplier to pay this back to you.

If you’re struggling to cover the cost of your energy bills, speak to your supplier as soon as possible and let them know that you’re finding it difficult to pay. Suppliers are aware that many people’s incomes have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and so may be able to offer various options to help relieve the financial pressure. For example, providers including EDF Energy, Scottish Power and Npower are allowing those experiencing financial difficulties to pay their bills over a longer period, and British Gas, E.on, Npower, Scottish Power and EDF Energy have all said they are prepared to have delay their bill due dates.

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