I struggle to pay my power bills – does this make me a vulnerable consumer?
According to the Electricity Authority, a vulnerable consumer is:
- a domestic consumer of electricity whose health or wellbeing would be seriously threatened if their electricity supply was cut; and/or
- a domestic consumer who is finding it genuinely difficult to pay their electricity bills because of severe financial insecurity, whether temporary or permanent.
For example, you might qualify as a vulnerable consumer if you:
- are on a low income or
- are elderly or
- have health problems or
- have very young children or
- are living with someone who is elderly or has health problems.
If you or someone living with you depends on your mains power to run critical medical support equipment, then you may qualify as a Medically Dependent Consumer.
If you think you’re a vulnerable consumer you need to let your electricity provider know as soon as possible. They may ask for proof e.g. from your general practitioner, budgeting agency, or Work and Income (if you are a beneficiary), and will probably contact you once per year to check whether your status is still the same.
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What difference will it make if I tell my power company I’m a vulnerable consumer?
If you have told your power company that you are a vulnerable customer and have difficulty with paying your power bill, the company should follow certain procedures to help you – and only disconnect your power supply as a last resort.
Your power company should contact you to discuss your options which may include:
- discussing alternative pricing and payment plans
- advising you of agencies which can help you with budgeting
- referring you to Work and Income (with your consent) to determine whether you are eligible for financial assistance:
Depending on your circumstances you may be eligible for assistance from Work and Income:
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Can the power company still disconnect my power supply if I can't pay my bill?
Usually, if you have not paid your power bill after 48 days your provider can disconnect your power supply. However before disconnection takes place they should make a reasonable effort to contact you about the issue. If they have identified you as a vulnerable consumer, they should follow the procedure outlined above.
Power companies have to give at least 7 to 14 days’ notice before disconnection and then contact you again at least 24 hours before the actual disconnection. The notice includes their contact details (so you can ask them for credit help), as well as information about their dispute resolution process and the cost of disconnection and reconnection.
There is normally a hefty fee for being disconnected and reconnected, so it’s best to try and avoid this if at all possible.
If you are worried about being disconnected contact your local CAB to see if we can help.
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My power company doesn’t accept that I’m a vulnerable consumer. What should I do?
If you have a dispute with your energy provider, you can make a formal complaint in writing. If this does not help resolve the issue you can escalate your complaint to Utilities Disputes Limited (formerly the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner Scheme).