The short answer, and the answer you are most likely hoping to hear is – yes, but there are a few catches that we must explore and explain in this FAQ article.
You’re not alone
If you’ve managed to become indebted to an energy company, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Thousands of people around the UK are struggling to keep up with their energy bills, and are worrying that their electricity or gas may be cut off.
Luckily, cutting off your energy supply is really the very final action that the energy suppliers will take, as before that they will do everything they can to help you out. The last thing they want to do is to deny you your power and lose a customer as a result.
Who can I turn to?
If you’re asking yourself – can I change energy supplier if in debt – we suggest the first thing you do is talk to your current energy supplier. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and find out what measures they have in place to help you. Generally, there are two ways that they can be of service, the main way being that they offer you a payment plan based on what you can afford. The second way is to offer you special terms for the money you owe. In summary, they take the pressure off of your ‘fuel arrears’ (the money owed from the past) and make better terms for your tariff (the money you will pay in the near future).
If this doesn’t help, then the Citizen’s Advice consumer helpline is very efficient and should be your second phone call.
What’s the catch?
As long as the money you owe is less than £500 for gas and £500 for electricity, you should be able to switch. If this debt is more than 28 days old, you’re going to have a much harder time trying to switch energy suppliers.
This difficulty comes from the fact that if you switch energy suppliers whilst you have fuel arrears, the new energy supplier must agree to take on your debt and factor that into the money you will pay them.
This means there is a certain element of risk for the energy supplier, and whether they decide to welcome you as a customer or not is at their discretion.
When your current and new supplier talk to each other, they will make a decision whether to add your debt to the final bill of the original supplier, or distribute it across the costs of the new supplier.
Important to know: If the reason you are in debt with the supplier is their fault, and they have admitted responsibility, they can’t stop you from switching.
What are my options if I stay?
If you’ve explored the question – can I change energy supplier if in debt – and you’ve found that you can’t, or perhaps shouldn’t, then you need to hatch out an agreement with your current supplier. The new payment plan may be weekly, each fortnight, or every month, and will include both the fees for the energy you’re using now, and a contribution towards paying off your debt.
What if it’s still too much?
This is where things can get a bit tricky. If you’ve accrued fuel arrears and then fashioned a repayment plan, but also failed to keep up with that, it’s wholly possible that your energy supplier offers to install a repayment meter in your home.
If this happens, you will be given a token, key, card or perhaps a smartphone app which you have to go and top up, often in a local shop, but also online. This makes your energy pay-as-you-go, though a percentage of what you pay will go towards paying off the debt you’ve accrued.
The repayment meter produces one major problem – if you run out of money, you are cut off. From the other perspective, using energy pay-as-you-go makes you far more proactive at conserving energy in the home.
If you are on government benefits, it is also possible to connect them directly to your energy supplier to pay off your fuel arrears. This method is preferable for many, as it means avoiding the repayment meter in the home.
What should I do now?
As we mentioned earlier, you need to speak with you energy supplier, but before you do that, write down the figures for these expenses, so you are well prepared for the payment plan phone call.
- Make a list of all your incomes from your job, pension or benefits.
- Make a list of all your expenses, like food, insurance, extra taxes, transport, rent or mortgage.
Once you have all of these figures clearly defined, your phone call will be a lot smoother and will progress you much closer to a payment plan that you can afford.
So, the answer to – can I change energy supplier if in debt – is yes, but speak to your supplier first. If this article was helpful, please let us know, and if you have any further questions we’d be happy to talk about switching energy suppliers.
Don’t delay switching your energy supplier. You can save up to £290 on your utility bills. How? My Energy will help you all the way through the process. Take the first step now, go to My Energy.