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Problems paying your bills

A pile of unpaid bills gathering in a drawer can be stressful. And unpaid bills cost you more if you have to pay late fees or missed payment fees or if you lose track of what you already paid. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to deal with your bills. If you make a realistic and affordable plan and stick to it, any bill problem can be managed.  

What bills should I pay first?  

Make sure you can pay for your living costs like food and electricity before you prioritise payments of other bills and debts. You can use the My Budget tool to help you work out what money you have coming in and going out. If you have arrears and debts, use the My Full Financial Picture tool as it includes a section for debts. 

Next, you need to prioritise your debts. This means splitting your debts into priority and secondary debts. Some debts are called priority debts because they cause the most problems if not paid. For example, your energy bills (gas, electricity, coal or oil) are a priority debt because if you do not pay them, you could be disconnected. Secondary debts have less serious consequences. They include credit card debt or overdrafts. 

Get in touch with a MABS adviser if you’re struggling to deal with your priority debts or you’re not sure which debt to pay first. 

How to prepare for unexpected bills 

Unexpected bills can be difficult to manage. It can be very stressful when the fridge needs to be repaired, your car breaks down or the washing machine stops working. Take the steps below to try and be prepared for when bills like this arrive. 

1. Make a budget  

A budget can help you see what money you have coming in and going out each week or month. It’s good to see if there is anywhere you can save some money. MABS has a free My Budget tool that will quickly show you what’s left over after you pay your priority bills. 

2. Put money aside for unexpected bills 

If you have some money left after paying your bills, try and put this aside each month to save for unexpected bills. Even a small amount of money will make a difference.   

3. Try to cut back 

Use this quick and easy spending calculator from CCPC to work out where you can make savings on other things that you buy regularly. Try to put this money aside for an unexpected bill.  

I’m unable to pay my bills 

If you’re having trouble paying your bills, explain your situation to your supplier as soon as possible. They are more likely to be sympathetic to you if you contact them as soon as you run into trouble with paying your bills.  

The supplier may, with your agreement, arrange for an alternative payment plan to be put in place. Suppliers must help you if you are in genuine financial difficulty. 

Do I have to pay all the money I owe in one go? 

The good news is that you may not have to pay all the money you owe immediately. You may be able to spread out your payments over several months. 

I’ve been told my energy supply will be disconnected 

The sooner you talk to your utility provider, the better. Remember, they have to try and work out a plan with you and will probably offer you more affordable options like: 

  • Agreeing a payment plan that works for you 
  • Getting a pre-pay meter (if you don’t already have one) 

Electricity and gas suppliers must make at least 4 attempts to contact you before they disconnect you. 

Is a vulnerable customer protected from disconnection? 

You can’t be disconnected if you’re registered with your provider as a vulnerable customer. A vulnerable customer is someone with special needs. For example, if you or a member of your household depends on equipment such as a home dialysis machine or a ventilator. 

If you’re an older vulnerable customer struggling to pay your bill, you can’t be disconnected in the winter months (November to March). 

If you are in arrears or having difficulties paying your bills, contact MABS to help you make a plan.   

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has more information about your rights and about codes of practice for energy suppliers on how they must treat their customers.   

They cover things like:  

The CRU also recommends you review your supplier’s Codes of Practice too so you know what standard of service you are entitled to. 

Take control of your bills 

Paying bills on time can be stressful. There are ways to manage your bills and supports if you are struggling. 

1. Get organised 

Get a folder and keep your bills in it. If you get most of your bills online, put them in a file on your computer. Keep track of when they need to be paid. 

2. Check your bills regularly 

When you get a bill, check the payment date to see how urgent it is. Also check what the penalty is for late payment. You should try and keep an eye on your bills regularly, it will be easier to spot mistakes. 

3. Make a payment schedule 
  • Decide on a schedule to pay your bills so that the costs are evenly spread out. Try to avoid paying a number of bills at the same time, as this could leave you short of money for that week or month 
  • Ask to change a bill’s due date if it would be easier for you to pay at a different time of the month.  
  • Most energy providers have budget plans that let you spread your payments over the year. This option is usually only available if you pay by direct debit. 
4. Make a schedule to pay your bills  
  • Bills can come at different times. They may come every week, month or year. Work out how much you need to pay and when. The easiest way to do this is using our My Budget tool to help you plan. 
  • If possible, put aside even a small amount of money each month to save for unexpected bills. 
5. Save money on your bills 

Ways to pay your bills 

Try to pay your bills at a regular time every week or month using any of the following ways: 

Direct Debit is a direct payment from your bank account. Some companies will give you a discount for paying by direct debit. Watch out for setting up direct debits too close to the payment date in case of payment or banking delays!  

BillPay allows you to choose how you want to pay your bill at your local Post Office or online lets you pay as much or as little off your bill as you like each time (as long as it is within the limits set by the company you’re paying it to). Or you can set up automated payments each month. 

PostPoint is a free service that lets you pay all your main monthly household bills in many shops nationwide. There are no delays and you can choose to pay all or part of a bill. You’ll need a bar-coded bill or payment card to make a payment. 

Payzone is a bill-paying service for household bills, pre-pay utility meter cards and the Local Property Tax. Check for the Payzone sign in stores. The service is free in some stores but not all, so check first. 

Household Budget Scheme is a free service for people who get certain social welfare payments through An Post in your local post office. You can deduct an amount from your total social welfare payment to pay bills like Bord Gáis, Eir and Airtricity. 

Pre-paid meters allow you to pre-pay for your electricity or gas. You receive a top-up card and can buy credit at PostPoint, or Payzone outlets or online using a debit or credit card. This is usually a more expensive way to pay for energy, but may have benefits to help you manage your bills. The Commission for Regulation of Utilities have more information.  

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