Subscriber OnlyYour Money

What happens if I can’t pay my energy bills this winter?

Consumers face rapidly rising bills but there are payment options and reassurance on the threat of disconnection

Your money 13-09-22

The shocks keep on coming. Earlier this month Energia became the latest to make its move, increasing the average bill for consumers by a swingeing 29 per cent for electricity and 39 per cent for gas from next month.

Electric Ireland had already raised its average prices by 26.7 per cent for electricity and 37.5 per cent for gas. That was more modest than Bord Gáis, which said it will increase the price of electricity by 34 per cent and gas by 39 per cent. SSE Airtricity was the first of the big four suppliers to move in August when it jacked up average prices by 35.4 per cent for electricity and 39 per cent for gas. All will take effect from October.

The moves are expected to add almost €50 a month, or almost €600 a year, to the typical household bill on an annual basis. Double that and you’re looking at an extra €1,200 people will have to find to meet their bills. And given that most of our energy expenses come during winter, that’s a hefty load people will have to bear over the coming months.

Energy suppliers say the surge in prices seen over the last year or so are down to wholesale prices and the international energy crisis, amid war in Ukraine and other pressures. The cost of wholesale gas has risen by 700 per cent in the last 12 months and by over 200 per cent from June 2022 to end-August 2022.


Unfortunately, respite doesn’t look to be on the immediate horizon, with even more price hikes expected later this year.

Energy price hikes are comingNowFrom OctoberIncrease
*Electricity - average annual bill€1,602€2,020+€418
**Gas - average bill€1,318€1,833+€515
* Electric Ireland standard rate
** Bord Gáis standard rate

Given such a sharp rise in costs, it is expected that many will run into difficulties meeting energy bills this winter. But there are options to consider if you fear the impact of these costs.

Payment options

With much of the “heat” of rising bills expected to hit home in winter, one option to avoid a shocker of a bill come February is to opt for a “level pay” type approach with your energy supplier. This means that the cost of your energy is spread out over 12 monthly bills, keeping the amount you have to pay each month steady — albeit still very high.

You might want to consider sending in a meter reading before agreeing to this approach to ensure that expectations for energy use are accurate. A spokesman for Bord Gáis “highly recommends” that customers submit regular meter readings.

Another option to a payment plan is to get a prepay meter installed. Sometimes this may be at the behest of the energy company, or alternatively, you can ask for it to be installed yourself, if you fear a bill that you cannot pay.

The advantage of such an approach is that it may be easier to monitor your spend on energy this year: all, you pay for what you use as you use it, so there can be no fear of building up significant bills which might cause you some distress. It has also moved on significantly from the days when you had to feed a meter with coins to keep the lights on; EI for example offers a home monitor, through which you can track usage.

Knowing that you’re spending money on your energy, may lead to lower usage. There can also be incentives for doing so — Electric Ireland for example, offers free sign-up credit of €150 for new customers and €60 for existing ones. Installation is also free.

However, the downside of this approach is that it is one of the most expensive ways of doing so, given that the standard rate tends to be more expensive than discounted rates on offer, while a daily charge also applies, on top of the annual service charge (about €200-€300).

According to Electric Ireland, a typical annual bill (including VAT) is €2,252 from October 1st — over 10 per cent more than the already steep average on bill pay, where the annual bill is €2,000.

If you receive an electricity allowance from the Department of Social Protection, this credit should be updated automatically.

If you do run into difficulties, talk to your energy supplier about a payment plan which will allow you to make regular payments on an outstanding balance on your account.

According to Bord Gáis, interest is not charged on debt arrears. If you’re struggling to meet repayments, it says it will come up with a manageable payment solution.

Another option is to look for help from either the €3 million Electric Ireland Hardship Fund or the €1.25 million Energy Support Fund from Bord Gáis. Both are administered by the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) and MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Service). Awards will typically be in the form of a credit to the customer’s electricity/gas account.

According to a spokesman for SVP, access to the scheme will be open from the end of this month and support from the funds can be accessed in the same way as normal funds by contacting the Society online at or by calling any regional office or a local conference branch. A visit to the applicant’s home is then arranged with SVP volunteers who will assess the level of need required.

“As with all SVP support, the level of help provided is based on need only and on a case-by-case basis,” he says.

Could I be cut off?

First things first; it’s unlikely you’ll lose access to your energy supplies this winter, even if you can’t pay your bills, as long as you remain engaged with your supplier. According to the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), electricity and gas suppliers must make at least four attempts to contact you before they disconnect you, while under the Energy Engage Code, suppliers cannot disconnect a customer who is engaging with them.

As the spokesman for Bord Gáis notes, its policy “is to never disconnect a vulnerable customer or a customer who is engaging with them”.

A moratorium on disconnections also applies during the winter period, and this year that will run from December 1st until February 28th, 2023.

Remember, if you’re considered a “vulnerable customer”, disconnection is not allowed. Vulnerable customers include those who are dependent on energy — such as electrically powered medical equipment for example. Disconnection cannot happen for such customers.

And there are other customers who also receive some protection. Those who may be vulnerable to disconnection due to “advanced age or physical, sensory, intellectual or mental health” can’t be disconnected during winter — and this winter is going to last longer than it usually does. The CRU has said that an extended moratorium on disconnecting energy supplies to vulnerable customers will apply, starting on October 1st and ending on March 31st. Normally, this moratorium would only begin on November 1st.

To benefit from being a vulnerable customer however, you must be registered as being vulnerable with the supplier, so make sure you have that form filled out.

State benefits

When it comes to energy, there are a number of benefits offered by the State; some will already qualify for these, some may shortly, and some may get a bump in allowances in the upcoming budget. So what are they?

First of all, the Household Benefits Package is available for those aged 70 and over, although it is possible to qualify if you are younger than this and meet certain requirements. This package pays out €1.15 a day (€35 a month) towards either your gas or electricity bill.

Second is the fuel allowance, which is paid out during the winter months, typically from September to April, so about 28 weeks. The current weekly rate is €33 (€924 in total) and it is means tested.

It is expected that increases are on the way for these payments in the upcoming budget.

There is also the option of applying for a so-called Additional Needs Payment, which is an expense that you can’t pay from your weekly income. Fuel or electricity costs are eligible for this payment. The amount you get will depend on your circumstances and what you need help for, and is awarded by a community welfare officer.

Finally, remember that if you work from home, you can claim some money back on your energy costs through the remote working relief.