£600 Energy Bills Support Scheme information

13 January 2023 10:28
  • Information Briefing Papers

Our latest Policy and Information Briefing provides an update to the Energy Bills Support Scheme and Alternative Fuels Payment, and answers frequently asked questions about the schemes.

Energy Bills Support Scheme and Alternative Fuels Payment (includes FAQ responses from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy)

Please note: Advice NI is not involved in the development or delivery of either the Energy Bills Support Scheme or the Alternative Fuels Payment, which are administered by the UK government, principally the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and electricity suppliers. The information below is based on documents in the public domain and engagement with relevant stakeholders.

On 30 December 2022 the UK government finally announced its plans for delivery of energy support payments to households in Northern Ireland, which commenced in Great Britain in October. Following on from an earlier announcement, it was confirmed that the £400 Energy Bills Support Scheme and the £200 Alternative Fuels Payment would be delivered together as a single payment of £600 to all households in Northern Ireland. Payments would start to be issued in January 2023 through electricity suppliers.

On the face of it, the process sounds very simple:

  • all households with a domestic meter and a domestic electricity contract are eligible;
  • there is no application process;
  • payments will be made automatically;
  • no-one will contact you out-of-the-blue and ask you for bank details.

However, there are a number of issues that could present problems for consumers, which we will try to address in more detail below. Not all of those issues have been resolved at the time of writing, and we will continue to engage with the government and organisations like the Utility Regulator to clarify any ongoing issues. We will share any updates through our website and social media platforms.

Basic Payment Issues

When will it be paid?

Official guidance requires suppliers to begin issuing vouchers to customers within 11 working days of the funds being transferred to them at the beginning of January, with payments to Direct Debit customers going out at the same time. We understand, therefore, that payments should start being issued from Monday 16th January 2023.

Suppliers have been instructed to prioritise vulnerable customers on their Care Registers, which means payments should be issued to those people first. To be included on your supplier’s customer care register you will need to be either of pension age, disabled or have a long-term health condition. Supplier information about Care Registers is included in Appendix 2 below.

Who will receive a payment?

Payments will be issued, either by bank transfer or voucher, to every account holder registered on the domestic electricity network at 08:00 on 2 January 2023.

If you do not have a domestic meter, for example, if you live in certain kinds of shared accommodation, a property with a commercial meter, or you are not connected to the grid, then support will be provided through an Alternative Funding process. The details of this scheme have not yet been provided by the government, although we understand this will involve an online application system managed by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

Support for non-domestic customers is also being provided through the Energy Bill Relief Scheme (EBRS), which came into force on 1 November.

How will it be paid?

This depends on how you pay for your electricity.

If you pay your electricity bill by Direct Debit, the £600 will be paid directly into the bank account from which bill payments are taken.

If you don’t have a Direct Debit arrangement, you will be sent a voucher by post to redeem at the Post Office – either by transferring it into a bank account or by withdrawing cash.

Can I ask for the payment to be made some other way?

Suppliers are authorised to make payments by bank transfer, secure voucher or non-transferable cheque where the specified method of payment cannot be used. However, this is ‘by exception’ only, so there will need to be a clear reason why the specified method of payment is not appropriate

What if the account holder has died?

In this situation, next of kin should contact the supplier to let them know as soon as possible. If there are still family members living in the property, details can be amended and a replacement voucher issued.

What if I move house before the payment arrives?

We are still awaiting clarification on this specific issue from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. However, with regard to voucher recipients, the supplier guidance states as follows:

Where a supplier identifies that a voucher has been incorrectly issued, for example in the case of a change of tenancy, they should cancel the voucher issued incorrectly and reissue to the correct recipient.

We understand from suppliers that this would most likely be treated as an exception case. Further information about exception cases is included in the supplier guidance, but it will be for the supplier to establish an appropriate course of action to ensure that any customer correctly registered on their network on the qualifying date receives a payment, by whichever payment method is deemed most appropriate.

Voucher Issues

What will the voucher look like?

Vouchers will be issued by post as a letter from the supplier. Letters should refer to the scheme as the ‘Energy Bills Support Scheme and Alternative Fuels Payment Northern Ireland’ (EBSS AFP NI).

Voucher letters for billed (also known as standard credit) customers will be addressed to the named account holder, whereas the letters for prepayment (keypad) customers will be addressed to ‘The Occupier’.

The back of the voucher will have a template to allow those unable to redeem the voucher for themselves to authorise a third party to collect on their behalf.

We have asked the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and suppliers to share a copy of the voucher letter but do not expect they will be able to do so at this stage.

What if I have a separate correspondence address?

Suppliers are instructed to issue vouchers to the supply address as standard, although customers can request for it to be sent to the correspondence address and it will be up to the supplier to decide whether to do so.

How do I redeem the voucher?

This can only be done at a Post Office branch. Present the letter with the voucher at the counter along with the following documentation:

  • letter and voucher from your supplier
  • proof of address (dated between 1 January 2022 and 1 January 2023)
  • bank card / account details (if you want the money paid into your account)
  • valid photo ID (if you want payment in cash)
  • top-up card or smartphone app (keypad customers only)

Third parties collecting for someone else will also need to provide their own valid photo ID, along with all the relevant documents listed above relating to the account holder.

See below, Appendix 3, for a list of suggested documents you can use as proof of identification and address.

Can I deposit the voucher into any bank account?

Voucher funds can be transferred directly to most bank accounts but not to building society accounts, and there is some uncertainty at this stage about whether deposits can be made into credit union accounts. Your local Post Office will be able to advise.

Consumers are strongly encouraged to deposit into their bank account where possible, for the obvious reason that this is much safer than withdrawing £600 in cash.

How long do I have to redeem the voucher?

Vouchers will be valid until 31 March 2023. However, suppliers can arrange to issue a voucher with a later expiry date in exceptional cases – for example, where there has been a delay in identifying a customer or a replacement is needed. The absolute limit in this case is the scheme closing date of 30 June 2023.

What if the details on my voucher are incorrect?

If credit customers receive a letter with the wrong name they need to get in touch with their supplier, which can be done through online systems in some cases. The supplier will need to cancel the voucher and issue a replacement.

Keypad customers do not need to do this as their letter will be addressed to ‘The Occupier’ in all cases.

What if my voucher is missing?

If your voucher has been lost or stolen, get in touch with the supplier to ask them to cancel the original and issue a replacement. However, note that the supplier will need to complete certain checks to verify that the voucher has not been redeemed.

Suppliers and the Utility Regulator are asking us to be patient before trying to chase up a missing payment. This is because it will take approximately 4-6 weeks to issue all payments. If by 28 February 2023 your voucher has not arrived, get in touch with your supplier at that stage to enquire.

We are particularly concerned about the risk here for keypad customers, as these letters will simply be addressed to ‘The Occupier’ and recipients may not realise their importance. Make sure you check all post carefully.

With respect to fears about the security of vouchers, it should be noted that anyone seeking to redeem the voucher will need to present proof of address and banking or ID documents to the Post Office, which must match the account information. However, if you have reason to believe your voucher has been taken by someone else get in touch with the supplier immediately to ask them to cancel it and issue a replacement.

What if I don’t have a top-up card?

For security reasons, the Post Office will only accept top-up cards or sight of the supplier app as verification for prepayment customers. A letter from the supplier or a previous receipt will not be sufficient.

We understand that suppliers are working to reissue top-up cards in some cases, but if you don’t have one and you do not use your supplier’s app then you will need to contact the supplier to request a new card. Some suppliers allow you to do this online, to avoid problems getting through on the phone, and we have included links in Appendix 2 below.

What if I don’t redeem the voucher in time?

Suppliers can issue replacement vouchers up to the scheme closing date of 30 June 2023. As this deadline approaches the supplier should consider use of cheques or bank transfers as necessary to ensure effective delivery.

Official guidance to suppliers instructs them to contact customers to encourage them to redeem the voucher, as follows:

To demonstrate that reasonable steps have been taken to deliver the payment to voucher customers, suppliers should make a minimum of three attempts to contact customers who have not redeemed their payment to encourage the customer to take action. 

One of the three attempts should include contacting the customer at least one-month before the expiry of the unredeemed EBSS AFP NI payment, highlighting the expiry date and encouraging redemption.

However, you should be cautious about cold calls and beware of scams. Remember that suppliers will not ask you to provide personal information, especially bank or account details, when calling you.

Usage Issues

How can I use the payment?

There are no restrictions on how recipients use the payment once it has been transferred into a bank account or withdrawn as cash. The main reason for delivering the support to households in Northern Ireland in this way is the prevalence of home heating oil use here, which requires larger up-front payments. At the same time, the delay in getting the support to people here compared to those in the rest of the UK was also a factor, as consumers in Northern Ireland have had to deal with increased energy costs for 3 months with comparatively less support from the government.

Will this push up the price of home heating oil?

This is always a possibility. We would always encourage consumers to check prices carefully before making a purchase to ensure they get the best deal. The Consumer Council conducts a weekly Home Heating Oil survey to benchmark prices both regionally and for each of the 11 local council areas, which should indicate how the price you are quoted by a specific supplier compares to others in your area.

You could also consider joining a local Oil Buying Club, which can help to reduce costs, especially on more frequent deliveries of smaller amounts of oil. If you want to know more about the Oil Buying Network, contact the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) at oilbuyingclubs@nihe.gov.uk or 0800 111 4455.

Should I be worried about scams?

Everyone should beware of scams. As the payment will be made automatically, either by direct transfer or voucher, there should not be any need for suppliers to contact you, especially to ask for financial information. More advice about spotting and reporting scams is available from the Consumer Council.

People receiving vouchers are strongly encouraged to deposit the money into a bank account at the Post Office, as this is much safer than withdrawing a large sum in cash.

What if I am still struggling to pay my bills?

This payment will not solve the current financial difficulties everyone is facing, which involves much more than just energy costs, with the price of food and other essentials still rising.

If you are still unable to meet energy costs you should talk to your supplier, who should look to agree a repayment plan. Suppliers have recently agreed to a new Consumer Energy Charter which commits them to being more proactive in supporting vulnerable customers and those facing hardship.

Be mindful of developing financial difficulties, and communicate with your creditors. If you need advice and support dealing with debt or arrears our debt advice service can be reached through our Freephone helpline on 0800 915 4604 or by emailing advice@adviceni.net.

In addition, our website now includes a comprehensive Cost of Living section, which provides information about other support schemes and practical advice about reducing costs. You can also contact your local independent advice service for information about support that may be available in your area.

Appendix 1 – Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy FAQs

An official issue log is being maintained by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to monitor queries from stakeholders, including Advice NI. The information below is an initial series of responses to questions raised with the Department and shared with stakeholders on 12 January 2023.

It is expected that the FAQs will be updated as other queries arise, so if you have an issue you would like to raise please contact a member of the Policy & Information Team.

Energy Bills Support Scheme and the Alternative Fuel Payment in Northern Ireland FAQs

  • Households across Northern Ireland will receive £600 from the government to help with energy costs. This is intended to support whoever pays the household’s energy bills.
  • Keypad Meter and Standard Credit customers will receive a £600 voucher in the post from the Post Office. Vouchers need to be redeemed at a Post Office branch. The voucher and supporting paperwork will be needed.
  • Direct Debit customers will receive a £600 payment direct to their bank account.
  • No application is needed. Beware of scams.    
  • Customers should receive the single payment or voucher by 28th February.

What is this payment?

This is a payment of £600 from government to households in Northern Ireland to help with energy bills. It is going to households who have a domestic contract with an electricity supplier. 
The payment is made up of the Energy Bills Support Scheme (£400) and the Alternative Fuel Payment (£200). It is being provided by the UK government, and facilitated by electricity suppliers and the Post Office. 

Beware of scams

The payment is automatic. Communications from any source suggesting you need to provide personal information, phone a number, or follow a link are likely to be scams.  If you pay by direct debit or if you use a keypad meter suppliers generally have all the information they need to get this payment to you. If suppliers need to contact you they will do so directly.

Exercise caution. Do not click on suspicious links. You can report messages you think are suspicious at report@phishing.gov.uk.

Frequently Asked Questions

When will I get my payment?

  • Vouchers will be delivered from 16th January onwards. Payments to customers who are on suppliers’ Customer Care Registers will be prioritised.
  • Delivery will be phased. Not everyone will receive it on the same date.
  • We expect all customers to receive vouchers by 28th February.
  • We will update the delivery dates as we receive information on how vouchers are being paid out. Customers are urged to redeem vouchers as soon as possible once received and strongly encouraged to deposit into bank accounts. Both of these actions will support the Post Office in a speedy and streamlined delivery.

Customers who pay by Direct Debit

Starting from 16th January, Direct Debit customers will:

  • Receive the payment directly to their bank account.

OR

  • If suppliers have been unable to complete a direct payment for a Direct Debit customer into their bank account, then that customer will receive a voucher from the Post Office in the name of the electricity account holder.

Customers who pay by standard credit (bill pay)

  • Starting from 16th January Credit Customers who pay for their electricity by standard credit (bill pay) will receive a voucher from the Post Office in the name of the electricity account holder. Customers who are on suppliers' Customer Care Registers will receive their vouchers first.

Customers who pay for their electricity via a keypad meter

  • Starting from 16th January customers who pay for their electricity via a keypad meter will receive a voucher in the mail from the Post Office addressed to the ‘Occupier’.  Customers who are on suppliers' Customer Care Registers will receive their vouchers first. 

If you have not received your payment, please wait until 28th February to contact your supplier because payments will still be being made until then. 

How will I get my payment?

Customers who pay by Direct Debit 

Direct Debit customers will:

  • Receive the payment directly to their bank account. 

OR

  • If suppliers have been unable to complete a direct payment for a Direct Debit customer into their bank account, then that customer will receive a voucher from the Post Office in the name of the electricity account holder. 

These payments will be made from 16 January onwards.

Direct Debit customers do not need to contact their supplier to receive this payment – it will be credited to your bank account automatically. 

Customers who pay by Standard Credit (Bill Pay) 

  • Customers who pay for their electricity by Standard Credit (Bill Pay) will receive a voucher from the Post Office in the name of the electricity account holder.
  • Deliveries of vouchers will begin on 16th January and each household should have received their voucher by 28th February. 
  • Customers do not need to contact their supplier to receive this voucher – it will be sent to homes automatically.

*The only exception to this is if someone is going to redeem the voucher on the account holder's behalf if they are elderly/disabled/housebound or otherwise unable to do it themselves

Customers who pay via a keypad meter

  • Customers who pay for their electricity via a keypad meter will receive a voucher in the mail from the Post Office addressed to the ‘Occupier’. It is not necessary for you to update the name on the account in order to receive the voucher.  
  • Deliveries of these vouchers will begin on 16th January and each household should have received their voucher by 28th February.
  • Customers do not need to contact their supplier to receive this voucher – it will be sent to homes automatically.

How can I redeem my voucher?

All vouchers must be redeemed at a Post Office.  

You are strongly advised to deposit the £600 promptly at the first available opportunity into your bank account at the Post Office counter. This is the safest, easiest, and fastest option for you.  Doing so will also allow others to receive their payment more quickly and avoid impacting on other Post Office services. 

What do I need to take to the Post Office in order to redeem my voucher? 

To redeem your voucher, you will need to take to the Post Office:

  • Your voucher
  • Your identification (this must match the account holder details on the voucher)
  • Acceptable proof of Address (this must match the account holder details on the voucher)
  • If you pay via a keypad meter – your top up card or the Keypad top-up app you use to make payments
  • Your bank card or your bank account details - to deposit the payment directly into your bank account at the post office counter

What identification do I need? 

Customers who pay for their electricity by Standard Credit (Bill Pay)

 

  To pay the funds straight into your bank

To receive a cash payment  

ID 1

Your bank debit card

Photographic ID from the options listed below

ID 2

  One of the following as proof of address:

  • Utility bill such as phone, water, electricity, TV licence 
  • Bank or building society statement 
  • Rental or mortgage agreement 
  • Letter from a UK government or Northern Ireland department 

The date on the statement or letter must be between 1st January 2022 and 1st January 2023.

Direct Debit customers that suppliers have been unable to complete a transfer payment

 

  To pay the funds straight into your bank

To receive a cash payment  

ID 1

Your bank debit card

Photographic ID from the options listed below

ID 2

 One of the following as proof of address:

  • Utility bill such as phone, water, electricity, TV licence 
  • Bank or building society statement 
  • Rental or mortgage agreement 
  • Letter from a UK government or Northern Ireland department 

The date on the statement or letter must be between 1st January 2022 and 1st January 2023.

Customers who pay for their electricity via keypad meter

 

  To pay the funds straight into your bank

To receive a cash payment  

ID 1

Your bank debit card

Photographic ID from the options listed below

ID 2

Your keypad top-up card OR The keypad app on your phone/smart device

ID 3

One of the following as proof of address:

  • Utility bill such as phone, water, electricity, TV licence 
  • Bank or building society statement 
  • Rental or mortgage agreement 
  • Letter from a UK government or Northern Ireland department 

The date on the statement or letter must be between 1st January 2022 and 1st January 2023.

What photographic ID do I need? 

You will need to provide one of the following types of photographic ID to claim your payment in cash:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid UK or EU/EEA Driving Licence
  • Asylum ID Card
  • NI Electoral Identity Card
  • Translink SmartPass (Senior/60+/War Disabled/Blind Persons)
  • Armed Forces ID or Police Warrant Card 

Can someone else redeem a voucher on someone’s behalf if they are elderly/disabled/housebound or otherwise unable to do it themselves?

If customers require support with redeeming their vouchers, there will be an explanation on the voucher if they want someone else to redeem their voucher. 

I need large print or braille

If your electricity supplier is aware of your needs, your voucher will arrive in the appropriate format. 

If your electricity supplier is aware of your needs, there is no need to contact your supplier to receive your voucher in large print or braille. 

I don’t have a bank or credit union account.  Can I take the £600 as cash?

There is an option to take the payment as cash, but this is dependent on available cash at the branch you attend. Taking such a large sum in cash is a serious risk. If you lose the cash it cannot be replaced. You are strongly advised to open an account to receive this payment. This is the safest option.

What if I don’t have a domestic electricity contract?

Equivalent payments will be made at a later date to households who do not have a domestic electricity contract (e.g.  residents of park homes, some care homes, tenants in certain types of private and social rented homes, homes supplied by private wires, residents of caravans and houseboats on registered sites, farmers living in domestic farmhouses without a domestic electricity connection, households off the electricity grid).   Further details will be published. 

I have not received a voucher. What should I do?

Only the following customers will receive a voucher:

  • Customers who pay for their electricity by Standard Credit (Bill Pay)
  • Customers who pay for their electricity with a Keypad meter
  • Direct Debit customers where suppliers have been unable to complete a transfer payment into the customer’s bank account
  • Direct debit customers will receive the payment direct to their bank account in the first instance. 

If you are eligible for a voucher, you should receive this by 28th February. If you have not received your payment, please wait until 28th February to contact your supplier because payments will still be being made until then. 

You should call your supplier if you have not received it after 28th February. 

How does my voucher arrive?

You will receive your voucher in the post from the Post Office.  For Keypad customers, vouchers will be addressed to ‘the occupier’.  Vouchers issued to customers paying by standard credit (bill pay) will be issued in the name of the electricity account holder.   Redeem your vouchers at the Post Office promptly. This will help you as you will get the benefit as soon as you redeem the voucher, and will minimise the risk of the voucher being mislaid.  Prompt redemption will also help reduce delays to others receiving their vouchers and reduce the impact on Post Office services. 

Do I need to apply?

No one needs to apply for this payment. Payments and vouchers will be issued automatically, you will not need to provide your bank details to qualify for this payment 

My keypad meter (only) is in my landlord’s name but I pay the electricity costs directly

Keypad meter users will receive a voucher in the post, addressed to 'the occupier'. The voucher will be for the value of £600 to be redeemed at a Post Office as directed on the letter. The voucher provided is intended to provide support with energy costs for the household. If you top up your keypad meter yourself, you are the intended recipient.

Does my landlord need to pass on the EBSS AFP NI support? 

To ensure EBSS AFP NI is provided to the people it is designed to help, the Government has introduced regulations to require third-party intermediaries, such as landlords, to pass the support through in a just and reasonable way to end users, such as tenants.  Guidance on pass-through requirements can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pass-through-requirements-for-energy-pricesupport-provided-to-intermediaries/guidance-on-the-pass-through-requirements-for-energyprice-support-in-great-britain-provided-to-intermediaries  

My electricity account is not in my name.

Customers who pay for their electricity via keypad

This is not a problem for customers who pay for their electricity via keypad, as vouchers will be issued to ‘the occupier’ and no name is therefore required. Please note that this is a change from some earlier communications which suggested keypad customers would need their name on the account. The change to vouchers for keypad customers being addressed only to ‘The Occupier’ will help all Keypad customers to be able to redeem their vouchers promptly.      

What happens if vouchers are received with an incorrect name?

This is not a problem for customers who pay for their electricity via keypad, as they will be sent their vouchers in the name of “The Occupier” only, and so do not need to have their name on the voucher to redeem it at the Post Office. [Please note: This is the correct process for the payment.  Any other communication suggesting that a named voucher is needed for customers who pay for their electricity via Keypad is incorrect.

However, if a customer who pays for their electricity by standard credit (bill pay) receives a voucher with the incorrect name, they should contact their supplier who will cancel the incorrect voucher and re-issue a new voucher in the correct name.

For further Information : https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/help-domestic-energy-costs  

Appendix 2 – Electricity supplier contact information

Customers are asked to avoid contacting suppliers to query payments in the early stages of the scheme and to use digital systems to check and update personal information wherever possible. As it will take approximately 4-6 weeks to issue payments, we are advised to wait until at least the end of February before getting in touch. As the ultimate deadline for payments to be made is not until 30 June 2023 there should still be plenty of time for suppliers to address any missed payments.

The main exceptions are credit customers who receive a voucher letter with an incorrect name, as they will need to advise and request a replacement, and keypad customers who do not have a top-up card or access to their supplier’s app to use as verification.

At Advice NI, we fully support the decision to prioritise vulnerable customers, especially those who struggle with navigating digital systems.

Supplier

Telephone contact

 

Electronic contact

 

Budget Energy

0800 012 11 77

Mon-Fri 8am-8pm

Sat 11am-4pm

talkToUS@budgetenergy.co.uk

Live chat and e-form via website

Confirm your details

Supporting vulnerable customers

 

Click Energy

0800 1 070732

Mon-Fri 8am-8pm

Sat 9am-4pm

chat@clickenergyni.com

Contact Us, including live chat

 

 

Electric Ireland

0345 600 5335

Mon-Fri 8.30am-7pm

customerservice@electricireland.com

Information for vulnerable customers

 

Power NI

0330 122 0312

Mon-Fri 8am-8pm

home@powerni.co.uk

Update the Name on a Power NI

Account

Customer care services

 

SSE Airtricity

0345 601 9093

Mon-Fri 8am-8pm

 

customerservice@airtricity.com

Contact Us

 

Appendix 3 – Documents required to redeem vouchers

  1. The voucher letter from the supplier.
  2. Proof of address – this must show your address and be dated between 1 January 2022 and 1 January 2023. Acceptable proof of address includes (but is not limited to)
  • utility bill, such as phone, water, electricity, TV licence
  • bank statement
  • rental or mortgage agreement
  • letter from a UK government or Northern Ireland department
  1. If you are requesting payment into an account – your bank card and/or account details.
  2. Photo ID – only required if you are redeeming your voucher as cash. Your ID must be valid at the time you redeem your voucher, and must be one of the following:
  • passport
  • UK or EU / EEA photo driving licence
  • Armed Forces ID card or Police Warrant card
  • Northern Ireland Electoral Identity Card
  • Translink SmartPass (senior / 60+ / war disabled / blind person)
  • Asylum ID card

If you do not have photo ID, you will need to obtain it or contact your electricity supplier. See how to apply for an Electoral Identity Card.

  1. Keypad customers also need to bring their keypad app or top-up card, in addition to the voucher and proof of address. If you are not able to provide your top-up card or app, you will not be able to redeem the voucher for the keypad.

Appendix 4 – Useful sources of information

Official information from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Press releases:

Information from suppliers

Information from Advice NI

 

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Last updated:
23 January, 2023