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Paying the bills

Besides paying for your accommodation you also get regular bills for services such as water, gas, electricity, telephone and Council Tax. Paying for the bills might use most of your income.

This section covers:

Activity: Different ways of paying your bills. To find out about different ways you can pay your bills, select an envelope.

Making a weekly budget for paying your bills
To keep a budget it is important that you know how much you have to spend on your regular bills. It can be hard to work out how much we spend on bills each week because:

  • At different times of the year we may use more gas, water or electricity. especially in the winter months for extra light and heat.
  • We might pay bills weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly or every six months.

Quarterly bills: Quarterly means that every quarter of the year there is a bill. A quarter means one out of 4 – so if you divide 12 months (of a year) by 4 = 3 months. So a quarterly bill covers a period of 3 months and comes 4 times a year.

  • Many bills are sent every 3 months (every quarter).
  • This can mean that there is a lot to pay at once.
  • You will usually be sent a reminder if you don't pay the bill when it comes.
  • It is a good idea if you are budgeting to put money to one side so that you can pay the bill when it comes.
  • Keep your old bills so that you have an idea of how much to save.

So how can you budget to put enough money aside every week?

First you have to multiply by 4 – this is to find out about how much you have to spend per year. Then you will divide that amount by 52 – because one year has 52 weeks.

My last gas bill was £147 for a quarter.
£147 x 4 = £588 (This is the amount for a year)
£588 divided by 52 = £11.31 (to the nearest penny)
I should save £11.31 a week for gas.

Work this out for yourself.
My last electric bill was £65 for a quarter. How much should I save weekly? You can use our pop-up calculator for that.

Does your answer sound reasonable?

Monthly bills: You can convert monthly bills as well so you can make a weekly budget. Because one year has twelve months, you have to multiply the amount by 12 and then divide it by 52 to get the weekly amount you should save.

My last electricity bill was £20 for a month
£20 x 12 = £240 (this is the amount for the year)
£240 divided by 52 = £4.62 (to the nearest penny)
I should save £4.62 a week for electricity.

What if I can’t pay the bills?
If you make your own budget it can help you to manage your money so you have enough to pay your bills. Nevertheless, it might happen that you can’t pay the bills.

Spreading the cost of payments can take away the pain of large bills. If you have a bill that you can't pay then phone your supplier and speak to one of their advisers. They will give you a number of options.

Remember when you phone to:

  • Allow plenty of time – it can take a long time to get connected.
  • Be patient and polite – the person who answers the phone is just trying to do a job.
  • Have everything to hand – you will need paper and a pen as well as any bills or letters that you have been sent.
  • Make a note of when you called, who you spoke to and what was agreed.

If you owe money you may be asked to pay more than you can afford. Make a list of the money you have coming in and the money you are paying out. Have this in front of you when you call or write. Explain any difficulties that you have been having.

If you are still being asked for too much ask for any action to be put on hold to allow you time to go to an advice centre, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau. In the meantime keep paying as much as you can. You may also want to look at our Dealing with debt section.

Gas and electricity bills and meter readings
Before you get your gas or electricity bill, the company should take a meter reading. They do not always do this and may estimate your meter reading – they are guessing how much you have used. This estimate is very likely to be more than you actually used but you can do the meter reading yourself and get the estimate corrected.

Take a look at the meters below: most meters show numbers, although some will have dials.

Click here for details on Reading Meters
Show me how to read meters

Is the bill right?
A bill should show the current meter reading, the last reading, the number of units used, the cost per unit, any standing charge or service charge and the total amount payable.


The bill in this example is £19.30.

Look at your last gas or electric bill (not a reminder – it won't have the readings on it).

  • Can you see how the bill is worked out?
  • Do you have to pay a service charge or standing charge?
  • Was the bill based on an estimated reading?
  • Can you work out what the bill should be?

Changing gas or electricity companies
Because there are now lots of companies that can supply electricity, gas or telephone services it is easy to get in a muddle about who to pay.

  • When you change companies it takes a while to sort everything out.
  • If you are trying to budget think very carefully before changing suppliers.
  • If you want to change companies ask the new company how you should make payments. Also check to make sure you won't be charged if you make payments at a post office.
  • If you pay the wrong company you should tell your supplier what has happened. They should be able to sort it out, but this may take a long time.

Tip: Remember to keep an eye on your bills. Changing companies to get a short-term benefit is not always best value in the long term.

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