Four million households in the UK are in debt to gas, electricity and water companies, new research from the Debt Advisory Centre has shown.
This means 8 per cent of adults in the UK are in debt to utility companies, with many more admitting they simply cannot afford to pay for their gas and electricity.
Indeed, almost one-quarter of respondents to a recent survey from Opinium said they have at some point ignored a utility bill because they simply do not have the money to pay it.
Around 1.9 million adults in the UK said they are in debt to their gas provider, with 30 per cent of these being in arrears for one month or less. However, 33 per cent said they have been dealing with this issue for three months or more.
Similarly, approximately 1.9 million people said they owe money to their electricity provider. While 26 per cent have been in debt for around a month, nearly half have had them for three months or more.
In addition, 2.1 million UK adults admitted they are behind on payments on their water bill. In this case, 42 per cent have been in arrears for more than three months, while around 23 per cent said this has been an issue for one month or less.
What should I do?
The Debt Advisory Centre advised that consumers carry on paying usage costs for utilities. If they fail to do this, the organisation warned, the company could fit a prepayment meter in the property, which the householder could be charged for. What’s more, water companies could also take out County Court Judgements against the homeowner.
It is also important that people contact their utility provider and offer to pay as much as they can realistically afford towards making up the debt each month. This must be done on top of paying for current usage. It is important to make these payments even if the providers disagree with the amount the person in debt is proposing to pay back each month.
The Debt Advisory Centre also pointed out that some utilities providers have their own charities designed to help those in fuel poverty, so people struggling to meet payments should find out whether any of this type of help is available to them.
Getting a prepayment meter can be another option to consider, as it will stop contact from the provider. If a homeowner has tried everything and the providers are still “on their case” this can be a good decision, however it is important to note that prepaying can be more expensive than paying by Direct Debit.
Ian Williams from the organisation stated: “The average gas or electricity debt of a person on a debt management plan with us is around £350 and the average water debt is nearly £700.”
In January of this year, research from Energy Bill Revolution showed that 23 per cent had to make the tough decision to “heat or eat.”