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Millions of cash-strapped households build up £7bn in energy credit: How to reclaim

Rebecca Goodman
Written By:
Rebecca Goodman
Posted:
Updated:
26/04/2023

Almost £7bn in credit is currently held by the UK’s energy providers despite millions of households struggling to pay bills as prices rise across the board.

More than 16 million households have credit on their energy account, building up a total of £6.7bn, according to a comparison site’s research.

Credit balances are £5.3bn higher than they were just a year ago, thanks to a relatively mild winter, Government money to help with rising bills, and efforts by households to reduce their energy use, according to the report from Uswitch. 

The number of households with a credit balance on their energy account has also risen by five million, from 11 million households a year ago. The research also revealed that more than eight million billpayers now have more than £200 in credit.

Of those households with credit on their account, 26% said the amount was higher than in 2022 and 66% said this was because of Government payments to help with energy costs while 47% said this was because they had reduced their energy use. 

Two in five said their higher energy credit is due to their supplier setting direct debits too high.  

Geographically, those in Plymouth have the highest average energy credits of £603 while those in Glasgow had the lowest at £302. 

Meanwhile, the number of energy customers in debt has fallen from six million to four million over the last year, with the total amount owed falling from £1.2bn to £920m.

However, the overall amount people owe has risen from £188 to £234 on average.

Households in Norwich had the highest average energy debt level of £348 on average while those in Glasgow had the lowest at £78. 

How to reclaim energy credit

For many struggling households, this money could be used to cover other bills and day-to-day costs which have risen significantly in the cost-of-living crisis.

The money could also be kept in an interest-paying savings account, giving energy customers the chance to earn some money back rather than it languishing in energy accounts. 

But for 53% of customers with a credit balance (2,003 people polled), they said they will keep the money in their account to lower future payments despite the fact that energy bills are expected to fall this summer. One in five (18%) said they plan to ask their supplier to return some of this money.

Just 14% said they would request for all of it to be returned to them. 

Two thirds of customers said they have had an automatic refund from their supplier in the last year. 

But worryingly 54% have no idea how to reclaim credit from their energy provider. If you believe the direct debit you’re paying to your supplier is too high, you can ask for it to be reduced. You can also ask your energy supplier to return money to you if your balance is in credit.

Usually energy balances are higher after the summer months when people have used less energy. It’s then up to them whether they keep the money in the account, to pay for the colder winter months when they may use more energy, or to withdraw the money and use it elsewhere.

According to Uswitch, more than nine in ten people received their refund within four weeks.

‘Costs are still historically high’

Richard Neudegg, director of regulation at Uswitch.com, said: “If you are in credit, consider asking your supplier to refund some or all of your money, particularly if it will help ease other financial pressures. You should also ask your supplier to check that your direct debit is set at the right level for the amount of energy you use. 

“Although the number of households in debt has fallen, it is important that those who do owe money to their suppliers continue to be given the support they need.  “Wholesale energy prices have fallen since December and the prospect of lower bills is on the horizon, but costs are still historically high. Those struggling during the cost-of-living crisis continue to need help from the Government and suppliers.

“It is important that people without a smart meter continue to keep their supplier up-to-date with regular meter readings to ensure bills are as accurate as possible. Your supplier may also request new readings if you ask them for your credit to be refunded.”