Serious consequences for non-payment of energy bills, warn British charities | UK cost of living crisis

UK charities are warning people of the serious consequences of not paying their energy bills, as a campaign to stop payments from October gains momentum.

The group Don’t Pay UK, which is calling for bills to be reduced to an affordable level, has reportedly garnered the support of 80,000 people who intend to cancel their direct debit payments from October 1, when the regulator will raise the cap on energy prices, the ceiling amount that suppliers are allowed to charge.

Analysts predict the average household bill will top £3,300 a year, up from £1,971 in April.

The group says he will only act if a million people sign up for his “massive strike over non-payment of energy bills”.

Britain faces its biggest cost of living crisis in decades as energy and food bills soar. Citizens Advice said the scale of the problem was significant and that it had helped more people who were unable to top up their prepaid meter in June than in January 2022. It added that a record number users of its services did not have the necessary funds to activate their refrigerator or heat their hob to cook a meal.

Gas and electricity bills are classed as priority bills, meaning there can be serious consequences for missing or late payments, the charity Stepchange said. If people don’t pay them, their supplier can collect the debt by using a debt collection agency. They can also get a court warrant to enter people’s homes to install a prepaid card meter.

“Any arrears will be added to the meter and a fixed amount will be deducted each week. This means you have to pay the arrears in a fixed weekly amount or lose the supply. Your supplier may also remove the meter and cut off your supply, but fortunately this is incredibly rare,” said Richard Lane, director of external affairs at Stepchange.

“If you’ve fallen behind on your household bills and are worried about how you’ll pay, it’s important not to wait for help. Contact your provider to let them know you are having difficulty, they may be able to offer support and tell you about grants available to pay a utility bill or negotiate an affordable payment plan.

Citizens Advice said there were some safeguards for customers, but they were still vulnerable to higher charges after they refused to pay.

“Your provider can’t switch you to prepay if it’s not safe or convenient; for example, if an illness or disability means you would be at risk if your gas or electricity were cut off. Your supplier should also follow clear instructions and ensure that they have given you advance notice, given you time to pay your debts and offered alternatives to switching to a prepaid meter.

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The charity said that if customers cannot reach an agreement with a supplier to pay off an energy debt, the supplier can apply to a court for a warrant to enter their home to cut off their power.

The charity has urged people to contact their provider to try and reach an agreement to clear their debt before a hearing takes place.

If people have been owing money to their energy supplier for a while, the energy company can transfer their debt to a debt collection agency.

Collection agents, unlike bailiffs, have no legal powers but they are debt collection specialists. If this happens, Citizens Advice urges people to contact their provider or seek advice from a third party, including its own advisers.

“If you don’t repay your debt, additional interest may be added to the amount you owe,” he said.

If customers continue to not pay their bills, the energy supplier can sue them for a county court judgment. If the supplier wins the case, he can ask a bailiff to go to a customer’s home to collect the debt. A bailiff cannot, however, force entry into a client’s home.

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