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4 million UK adults are in gas, electricity or water bill arrears

3rd April 2013 Print

4 million adults in the UK are in debt to one or more of their utility providers, according to research by the Debt Advisory Centre.
And 26% of people - equivalent to 13 million - admit that they have ignored a utility bill in the past because they were unable to afford it at the time.
Around 1.9 million UK adults are in arrears to their gas provider. 30% of them have been in these arrears for one month or less. A sizeable chunk, however (33%) have been in gas arrears for three months or more.
Another 1.9 million UK adults are in debt to their electricity provider. 26% have had these arrears for around a month - but nearly half (41%) have had them for three months or more.
2.1 million UK adults are behind on their water bill - making water arrears the most common utility debt. 42% of them have been in arrears for over three months, and around half that (23%) have been in arrears for one month or less.
The Debt Advisory Centre has this advice for people struggling with utility arrears:
Carry on paying your usage costs for your utilities
If you don't do this, your gas/electricity company could force you to fit a prepayment meter in your house - which they could charge you for. Your water company could take out a County Court Judgment against you.
Contact your utility provider
Offer to pay as much as you can realistically afford towards your arrears each month - on top of your usage. Pay this even if your providers disagree with the amount you're proposing. Some utilities providers have their own charities that help people in fuel poverty, so you should check whether that help is available to you.
Consider getting a prepayment meter fitted
Although you may want to avoid getting a prepayment meter, it could be a good idea if you've tried everything and your providers are still 'on your case'. Prepaying can be more expensive than paying by Direct Debit, but it will stop contact from your provider - because you will be paying for all the energy you use directly. They can load your arrears onto the meter and you can pay them off as you go.
Get professional debt advice
If you're not sure what to do about your utilities arrears, you should get professional advice as soon as possible. This is especially true if you're also struggling with other debts, like credit cards and personal loans.
Ian Williams from the Debt Advisory Centre said: "Getting the right debt advice could help to reduce your debt repayments to a level you can afford - giving you enough room in your budget to keep up with your utility bills and arrears payments.
"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. Our team of Financial Specialists could work with you to help you clear your arrears while you're tackling your other debts too."