3. Preventing disconnection
There are reasons why you should always try to prevent disconnection.
•You cannot solve a debt problem by being disconnected. Even after you have been disconnected, the supplier still requires you to pay the money you owe and can take court action to recover the debt from you. You will also be charged a fee for the expenses of disconnecting the supply.
•If you later want your supply reconnected, you will have to pay any arrears still owing, plus the costs of disconnection and reconnection.
•If the supplier has had to obtain a magistrate’s warrant (or Justice of the Peace or sheriff’s warrant in Scotland) to disconnect your supply, you also have to pay the costs of obtaining the warrant (although an application may be made to the court to use its discretionary power to refuse the claimed costs). If you have produced a means statement (see here), this should be submitted to the court.
You may have to pay a security deposit as a condition of being supplied in the future following disconnection, or have a prepayment meter. If you are finding it difficult to meet your fuel costs, seek advice and let your supplier know about the difficulties you are experiencing as soon as you can. You are more likely to be able to obtain a solution which genuinely meets your needs if you have time to think about your proposals to the supplier, or what the supplier is prepared to offer you.
You should be able to prevent disconnection if you contact the supplier and:
•you arrange to pay your arrears at a rate you can afford; or
•you request to be put on the Fuel Direct scheme (see here). A request may also be made by the supplier; or
•you agree to accept a prepayment meter set to collect the arrears at a rate you can afford.
In practice, disconnection most often occurs where there has been no contact between the customer and the supplier. Once you engage with the supplier, it must consider your situation and work with you to identify a suitable way for your supply to continue and for you to repay your arrears at a rate you can afford (see Chapter 7).
The codes of practice may make some provision for disconnection to be delayed, typically for 14 or 21 days, if you tell the supplier that you are going to ask social services (social work in Scotland) for help with the bill.
Usually, suppliers prefer you to contact them by telephone. It is safer in terms of establishing an agreement and ensuring that the correct information is received, to confirm everything in writing. If possible, send an email to your supplier to confirm what you have agreed to pay so that you have a record for future reference, and request that the supplier confirms the terms of the agreement in writing with you.
If all else fails you can still make representations at the warrant stage if the matter goes to the magistrates’ court (see Chapter 10). It is often possible to negotiate a settlement even at this point. You should always attend court, taking an adviser, representative or friend with you, if possible.
The availability of entering into a debt respite scheme should be explored; but can only be applied for every 12 months and is limited to 60 days (unless it is a mental health debt respite scheme, which is for the duration of mental health crisis treatment, plus 30 days).