Utilities - MABS Investigates

18th March 2021

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by Denise, North Dublin MABS

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In MABS we receive a lot of great questions about money matters and tackling debt. Questions that we know many people want to ask, but don't know who to ask or where to start. ‘MABS Investigates’ is here to help. In this series of blogs, we will answer these questions and “investigate” these topics, to bring clarity and break down the jargon.

The focus of this week’s ‘MABS investigates’ is Utilities. We receive many questions regarding Utilities, so let's dive in.


What is a Utility Bill?

A utility bill is a bill for services that you use in your home including electricity, gas, and waste. Electricity and gas bills are often referred to as energy bills as they relate only to light and heat. Most energy bills are issued on a bi-monthly basis. Landline Phone/broadband bills are often considered a utility. During these uncertain times phone /broadband connectivity is a priority especially if you are living alone or isolating.

Check your Usage

Utility bills are slightly different to our other bills as we don't always know how much they will be as they relate to usage. It is a good idea to look at how much you are spending . If you are using a pre-pay meter you will not receive a bill but it is important to know your usage so you can plan your budget for the week/month. Some providers have a mobile app or online account where you can check your usage on pay-as-you-go.

You can find our series on energy saving tips here.

Oil

Although gas and electricity are commonly used to heat our homes many households use oil heating, usually kerosene, or other types of fuel. According to the 2016 Census(opens in new window), 4 in 10 households use oil to heat their homes.

Waste

Most of us don’t think of waste as a utility but our waste bins are a really important part of our budget. Depending on where you live there may be many suppliers that provide waste and recycling facilities. If this is the case, shop around to see which plan best suits your household. The flat fee for waste collection has been phased out so where you are being charged by weight try and look at reducing the waste bin and recycle where possible.

Some suppliers offer a yearly set fee or a smaller once off annual fee and then charge per lift. The lift charge may include the recycling bin so it might be more cost effective to bring some recycling, glass and cans to your local recycling centre or where there are free recycling bins. For more information on managing waste check out mywaste.ie(opens in new window).

Often, the heaviest item in our bin is waste food so where this can go in the compost bin it is an immediate saving. Think about your shopping habits as well as about a third of the food we buy is binned and then you’re paying twice for it, once to buy and once to bin it. Check out stopfoodwaste.ie or our shopping tips blog to see how you can cut down your food waste.


I’ve just got a massive electricity bill and can’t afford to pay it, what do I do?

If you’re going to have trouble paying your gas or electricity bill, the best thing to do is to talk to your energy provider. Check a recent copy of your bill, the number to call will be on this bill with your account number. Your provider may advise that you enter into a longer-term payment plan. The energy provider should be able to give you your average usage and its important to include this in your repayment.

If you agree a payment plan going forward, make sure you agree a date that will suit you to pay so you can ensure you have the money available to pay. If your bill is on direct debit and you have entered into a payment plan make sure that the energy provider cancels the request from their side and you should also contact your bank to cancel the direct debit.

u can check with your provider that you are on the best tariff for your needs. It is possible to switch providers to get a better tariff. Before you switch and if you move to a new provider make sure you check your contract as there are often penalties if you break a contract i.e. switch providers before your contract is due to end.

Check out the following websites to compare tariffs on gas and electricity:

If you are in arrears with your current supplier you may still be able to switch though it depends on how much you owe. If you do switch you'll need to pay the balance when your old supplier sends you your closing bill. The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) outline what you need to know on their website (opens in new window).

MABS can help you to deal with your arrears and work with you to help you work out a budget for your household to prevent bill shock in the future.

If you regularly have large energy bills, check your energy bills from the last year to see if there has been any big increases in use. Try to figure out why this has happened. Bills based on estimated readings may be wrong. If you can take your own gas and electricity meter readings and send the current readings to your supplier. The contact details will be on your bill. Doing this will make your bill more accurate. Bear in mind that by updating your readings if your readings are higher than your supplier’s estimated readings, you may end up with a bigger bill.


I’m on social welfare/low income, are there any supports available to help with my energy bills?

If you are in receipt of a social welfare payment you may be able to avail of the Household Budget Scheme.

The Household Budget Scheme (HHB) is a scheme that helps people getting certain social welfare payments to spread the cost of some household bills over the year. Under this scheme, a fixed amount is deducted from your social welfare payment each week. The HHB Scheme is free, find out more about HHB scheme on An Post's website here(opens in new window).

Make sure you are receiving all your entitlements to help with utility bills. If you are aged 70 or over the Household Benefits Package (HBP) helps with the cost of the TV licence, your electricity and gas bills. Only one person in a household can get the package. You do not need to be getting a State pension and the package is not means tested. You can find out more information about this on the Citizen Information's page on the Household Benefits Package(opens in new window).

The Fuel Allowance is a payment to help with the cost of heating your home during winter. It is paid to people who are dependent on long-term social welfare payments and those unable to pay for their own heating needs. Only one Fuel Allowance is paid to a household. More information is available on the Citizens Information page on Fuel Allowance(opens in new window).


I’ve been told that I’m going to have my gas/electricity disconnected, can I stop this happening?

Although there is currently a ban in place on all disconnections of domestic customers during Level 5 Restrictions, you may worry about what happens when the ban ends.

If you are concerned about being disconnected, talk to your energy supplier. If you don’t feel you can talk to your supplier talk to MABS. MABS may be able to put a stay on the disconnection while we work with you to put a payment plan in place.

If you have been unable to pay due to COVID-19 or if your circumstances have changed, MABS advises you to pay what you can no matter how small. In this case, you should consider a short-term budget to take account of the unusual things that have affected your situation.

You can find out if you're deemed a vulnerable customer on the CRU page about Vulnerable Customers here (opens in new window). If you are eligible and not already on the vulnerable customers register, register now. Each provider has a registration process and MABS can help you to find out how to register with your provider.

I’ve a pre-pay meter but I’m always in the red, what can I do?

If you are using a pre-pay meter this means you pay in advance for the fuel that you are going to use. You can also set up prepayment meters to collect debt from the money that you put in. It may be that you are paying off arrears and standing charges on your meter. If you availed of emergency credit during the first lockdown this may also being taken from this payment. If this is the case it means only a portion of your top up is going towards usage. It is important to check this with your provider.

It is important to work out your usage so you can see if you need to adjust your budget to cover your usage costs. If you find that you don’t have enough money to keep the meter topped up, talk to MABS and we may be able to help you work with your provider to put a better plan in place.

COVID-19 restrictions and disconnection moratoriums

Following the activation of Level 5 measures, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has put in place a moratorium on all disconnections of domestic customers. This began on 8th January 2021 and remains in place for the duration of the current Level 5 restrictions.

MABS advises you to pay what you can no matter how small.



Have you got a money or debt advice question that you'd like answered? Get in touch, and we'll give you a clear and accurate answer to your money and debt advice questions.


Disclaimer: This blog does not represent legal advice and is intended for guidance only. If you are concerned about your current or future personal financial situation then please contact an adviser from MABS. All face-to-face consultations are currently suspended, however advisers are available by phone and email and through our online chat. You can call the MABS National Helpline on 0761 07 2000, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 8pm or find the contact details for your local office here.

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