ENERGY suppliers are being urged to write-off debts for low-income families who can't pay their bills during the coronavirus pandemic.
Suppliers have already agreed not to disconnect households during the virus outbreak, even if they can't afford their bills, which the government says will help 4million customers.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
Instead, households on pre-payment meters will roll onto emergency credit, which may last for the duration of the lockdown.
But the energy consumption during this time isn't free and it will need to be paid back at some point in the future when things return to normal.
This means millions of low-income families will be in significant debt to their supplier with no guaranteed way of being able to pay it back.
One of the ways to tackle the persistent debt is to write it off, suggests fuel poverty charity National Energy Action.
What to do if you can't pay your bills
FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.
If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.
Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.
One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable instalments.
You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.
A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.
To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income support
- income-related employment and support allowance
- Pension credit
- Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)
If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.
In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.
Speaking at a round table hosted by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), Peter Smith, director of the charity, said: "We hope that suppliers will recognise the constraints that there will be on households and consumers [in the aftermath of the pandemic] and the drag that creates on the economy.
"Spending money would normally go towards paying for other goods to boost the economy will instead be used to pay off their household debts."
He added: "We'd like to see greater consideration for debt write-off schemes and the consistent provision of adequate debt advice."
Dhara Vyas, head of future energy services at Citizens Advice, added that suppliers should take into consideration customers' affordability when drawing up repayments plans.
CORONAVIRUS CRISIS – STAY IN THE KNOW
Don't miss the latest news and figures – and essential advice for you and your family.
To receive The Sun’s Coronavirus newsletter in your inbox every tea time, sign up here.
To follow us on Facebook, simply ‘Like’ our Coronavirus page.
Get Britain’s best-selling newspaper delivered to your smartphone or tablet each day – find out more.
"But I think it's too soon to know exactly what the recovery is going to look like," she added.
The economic impact of the virus is expected to severely affect household budgets.
The Office for Budget Responsibility predicted that the three-month lockdown could leave 2million Brits unemployed and result in a 35 per cent fall in GDP.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said it is “not surprising” that the UK is facing its biggest economic slump in 300 years – as this has never been seen before.
Some energy firms are already offering customers who are struggling new repayment plans that are spread out over a longer period of time to lower the monthly costs.
You can find out exactly what your energy supplier, including British Gas, EDF Energy and NPower, is doing to help vulnerable customers through this uncertain period here.
If your finances have been hit by the impact of coronavirus then here's how to get help paying your bills.
Source: Read Full Article