Changing your energy supplier on a regular basis is a great way to make sure you are getting the best deal. In most cases switching is a very straight forward process, especially if you have an internet connection. After comparing deals, you choose the one that’s right for you. Now simply wait for the admin and account changeover to happen in the background.
There are a few problems that can throw a spanner in the works when it comes to switching your supplier. One of these is being in debt with your current energy supplier. Depending on the type of meter you are using, the amount of debt you owe and how long you have owed that debt can cause problems. A supplier can refuse to let you switch under some circumstances. This can cause a great deal of stress for the bill payer. As well as the debt hanging over your head, you can find yourself tied to a more expensive tariff.
When can a supplier stop me from leaving?
If you are not the registered bill payer you will not be able to authorise a switch. You may also be blocked by a new supplier if your current gas and electricity meters are not suitable for the tariff you have chosen.
When it comes to debt there are a few rules and trigger points that energy suppliers must follow when refusing a switch. This may not help you in your current situation but will at least clear up exactly where the lines in the sand are.
You pay your bills monthly or quarterly and have been in debt for 28 days or less:
If this applies to you then you will be able to switch energy suppliers. Select a new deal as per normal and let the process run its course. Once you have started being provided power from your new provider, simply wait for your final bill from your previous energy company. This will have your final usage charges as well as the amount you owe. Any dealings with regards to this debt will be with your old company. Your current supply and billing will not be affected.
My debt has been outstanding for more than 28 days:
In this case your current supplier has the right to block any switch that you have requested. If you attempt to move your account to another energy supplier, that switch will be blocked. You will be unable to get things moving until you come to an arrangement with your current energy supplier, or you clear the debt.
I am currently using a pre-payment meter and in debt:
The rules are a little different with regards to pre-payment meters and are based around how much you owe. If your outstanding balance is £500 or less, you are likely to be able to change tariff. The main hurdle to get over is that the energy supplier that you are switching to will be taking responsibility for the debt. You will still need to repay what you owe, but you will now be paying it to your new energy supplier.
If you owe over £500, you will not be permitted to switch. The company you are currently tied to will block the transfer of your account. This, as with any other payment method, can be a source of stress. If you find that you are unable or struggling to service the debt, seek help immediately. The ability to change suppliers can help bring your household outgoings down. Make sure you make an attempt to deal with this problem as soon as possible, so that you can take back control.
I am in debt, who can I turn to?
You are not the first person to fall behind on payments. You are also not completely alone when finding a solution to your debt problem. In the first instance try talking to your current supplier and explain the situation. They can often help with more affordable payment plans, or by offering advice.
Schemes such as Cold Weather payments, Fuel Direct Scheme, Winter fuel Allowance, are available for those in need. You should also check your eligibility for the Priority Services Register. Once registered, it will help to make sure you are not left without support.
Citizens Advice or the national Debt Helpline are highly trained in dealing with these issues. Never suffer alone or bury your head in the sand. Get help as soon as you know that you need it before it starts affecting your health and well-being.