I'm a debt expert – four steps to tackle your energy arrears NOW before winter bill hikes | The Sun

MILLIONS are being clobbered with crippling bill hikes – here's how to tackle your arrears before further rises this winter.

A massive £1.3billion is owed by households, with customers in debt to their supplier by £206 on average, latest data from Uswitch shows.

But with energy bills set to rise from £1,971 to £2,500 a year for the typical household, StepChange debt advice policy manager Jonathan Chesterman explains how to get on top of your arrears now.

He's one of the experts on The Sun's Squeeze Team panel, here to help guide you through the cost of living crisis.

If you’re worried about how to make ends meet, are struggling to pay off your debts or don’t know how best to manage your cash, get in touch by emailing [email protected]

He explains four steps to take now to get the help you need.

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Contact your supplier

It can be scary to see the amount you owe creep up – and it might be tempting to stick your head in the sand.

But you need to contact your supplier "as early as possible" to let them know if you're struggling.

"Energy debts are priority debts, which means there can be more severe consequences to not paying than with other types of debt," Jonathan said.

They are a priority debt because if you don't pay, you could be disconnected.

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Failing to engage with your supplier about your debt could also see them apply for a court warrant to forcibly install a prepayment meter in your home.

But prepayment meter customers pay more for their bills – the price cap for these customers is currently £46 a year higher than customers on the standard variable tariff.

The government hasn't confirmed if prepayment meter customers will be protected by the £2,500 energy price this winter.

That's why The Sun has called for a temporary ban on moving customers onto pre-payment meters.

Sort out a repayment plan

Once you've contacted your supplier about your debt problems, ask for an affordable repayment plan.

"Once your supplier knows you are having difficulty paying, they have a regulatory responsibility to support you and negotiate a repayment plan that is affordable for you," Jonathan said.

It means that your supplier should work with you to figure out a sensible amount you can pay towards your debts each month.

Apply for an energy grant

Your supplier could knock money off your bills – or your energy arrears – if you're struggling.

"Your supplier should also help to identify any available hardship funds or grants you may be eligible for that could help to pay off your arrears," Jonathan said.

Ask your supplier what's on offer and how to apply, or check here:

  • British Gas Energy Trust
  • Bulb energy fund
  • EDF's energy customer support fund
  • E.on's energy fund
  • Npower's energy fund
  • Octopus Energy Octo Assist fund
  • Ovo's debt and energy assistance
  • Scottish Power's hardship fund

You can get grants worth up to £1,500 from British Gas, for instance – and you don't even need to be a customer.

If you don't know who your supplier is, you can find out here.

Get free debt advice

Tackling your debts alone can be overwhelming.

If you don't know where to start, there are organisations like who can help.

"If you aren’t able to come to an agreement with your supplier, or are worried about mounting energy debt, a charity like StepChange can help with free and impartial debt advice," Jonathan said.

We've listed the full list of organisations who can give you free advice below:

  • Money Helper – 0800 138 7777
  • Citizens Advice – 0808 800 9060
  • StepChange – 0800 138 1111
  • National Debtline – 0808 808 4000

Most of them can offer you free guidance and help in person, over the telephone or online.

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Low income households can get up to £140 towards their electricity bills with the government's warm home discount scheme.

There's also help through the £400 energy rebate, and all the cost of living payments millions are eligible for.

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