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Understanding your energy bill and payment options

It can be difficult to read and fully understand your electricity bill. It's important that you understand the information contained within your bill to be able to make the right lifestyle choices.

  • Are you using too much electricity?
  • Why are you using too much electricity?
  • Are you getting the best price for the electricity you're using?

Please click here to see an example of an electricity bill, broken down into what each section means.

Payment options

The type of meter that you have will determine whether you pay by bill or pre-payment. You can request your supplier to change your meter to one or the other if you prefer. They may require you to complete a credit check first.

Pre-Payment

Pre-payment meters are often known as ‘pay as you go’ or ‘top-up’ meters. Essentially, you put money on your meter to pay for the energy you use before you can use it, like a pay as you go phone. You can only pay by pre-payment with a pre-payment meter and you can top up at any time online, with a key, card or tokens. If you have a smart meter many suppliers also have apps to allow you to top up from your phone.

If you struggle to budget your money or worry about using more energy than you can afford, pre-payment meters might be your best option. They allow you to top up as much or as little as you want.

On the other hand, it’s usually the most expensive way to pay for your energy because the standing charges will be higher on a pre-payment meter.

Direct Debit

Paying by direct debit can help you to manage your money more effectively. If you arrange to pay your direct debit monthly, you will pay an average usage price which remains the same each month so you can budget for it. This means that when your usage is lower in the summer and higher in the winter, you’ll pay the same.

If your usage is much higher or lower than the amount that you pay, your supplier will recommend you change your monthly amount, so you don’t run up debt. Most suppliers offer online services where you can check your usage and your credit.

Monthly or Quarterly Bill

If you do not set a direct debit up with your supplier, you will be sent a bill for any energy used. You will need to either pay this off each month or quarter or set up a payment plan.

These tariffs are usually more expensive, and you’ll spend more in the winter than the summer months. It’s usually cheaper and easier to budget if you set up a direct debit or a payment plan with your energy supplier.

Fuel Direct

If you are in debt with your energy supplier, you can request to have your energy costs, plus a contribution to your debt (£3.75 per week per meter), deducted from your benefits. You might be able to repay your debt directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.

This is usually an expensive way to pay, but if you struggle to manage your money and pay back your debt then this may be a suitable option.

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)

Contact the Jobcentre and let them know you want to set up Fuel Direct. They’ll contact your supplier and tell them you want to pay off your debt under the Fuel Direct Scheme. Your supplier must agree to it.

Remember: if you don't have a smart meter, you should provide meter readings at least every two months to make sure your charge is accurate compared to your usage. If you don’t, your supplier will take an estimate which may be higher than your actual usage.