Everyone needs gas, electricity and water; your utilities are what keep your house ticking over and your family living in comfort. But it’s easy for unpaid water, fuel or phone bills to spiral out of control. In Scotland, your water costs are included in your council tax bill. However, if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you will have to pay all of these separately.
Common causes of utility bill debt
People get into debt with their utility bills for many reasons. Energy companies are upping prices and bills all the time, which can result in you receiving a high bill that you can’t afford at the end of the month.
Bills can also be lost, whether in a last-minute clear-out or in the post. It can leave some people unable to pay because they don’t know how much they’re due.
Your energy bills are based on what your provider thinks you’ll use throughout the year, which can sometimes end up being wrong. This can often cause people to end up not paying enough for their usage and being sent the bill for the difference later on.
Living in Britain, our weather is unpredictable. People tend to use their utilities more during cold snaps, rainy days and sudden snowstorms, meaning your bill can easily end up costing more than you expected.
People move houses and/or switch energy companies all the time. However, sometimes this can mean you get hit with the extra cost of paying off the old company as well as paying your new one.
Systems can also take time to be updated when you switch, meaning you can end up with a bill for missed payments for your old energy company through no fault of your own.
Much like the weather, you never know what life is going to throw at you. Emergencies can spring up from time to time, leaving people with little to no money to be able to pay their bill.
Keeping on top of utility bills
Companies often raise their prices with little warning, and many still base your bill on how much energy they predict you will use. Unfortunately, this isn’t an exact science, and it’s easy to overlook the true cost of these bills when planning your budget, especially if you pay them quarterly.
Keep on top of things by putting aside enough money each month to cover all your bills – and remember, your heating bills may be more expensive during or shortly after winter.
Setting up a Direct Debit or standing order is a great way to make sure you don’t forget to pay your bill. Some companies also offer a discount for Direct Debit customers.
You should also double-check you’re on the cheapest rate. Use one of the many price comparison websites to check that you’re getting the best deal for your household energy. If you find a cheaper deal, switch; just make sure you pay all outstanding amounts to your old supplier.
If you’re already on the cheapest plan, you may still be able to do more to keep on top of your bills. If your payments are based on what the company guesses you will use, take meter readings often and compare these to your bills to make sure you’re being charged the right amount.
What to do if you have utility bill debts
Get in touch with your utility company to discuss the situation. Be open and honest and explain that you’re keen to pay off your debt. All utility companies should be prepared to work with you to find a realistic way of clearing your debt with them.
Ask if they can arrange a payment plan so you can bring your account back up to date without leaving yourself short for other bills.