It is just as easy for businesses to fall behind with their energy payments as individuals
More than 4.5 million energy customers - or eight per cent of the UK population - were in arrears to at least one of their gas and electricity providers in October this year.
The number has more than doubled since March, despite a warm summer, raising fears that the number of customers struggling to pay their bills during the winter could rise exponentially.
Debt Advisory Centre, the company which conducted the research and wrote this article, surveyed domestic as well as business customers for its poll.
It revealed it is just as easy for businesses to fall behind with their energy payments as individuals - and as many businesses are run from home, their gas or electricity may be supplied on a domestic tariff.
Residential or business?
If you work from home and have a domestic tariff, your energy company should offer you a payment plan to help clear your arrears. If this doesn't work out, it may insist that you have a pre-payment meter installed while the arrears are dealt with. Disconnection is usually the last resort.
However, if you have a commercial supply, you have less protection. You will also be offered a payment plan, but if this doesn't work out your energy supplier can disconnect your service after giving you 14 days' notice.
If you have a commercial contract but live at your business premises - in a flat above a shop for example - tell the supplier this: they may decide to treat you as a vulnerable customer.
First, make sure you are on the cheapest deal you can find. If you have just taken over a business with a commercial energy contract, contact the energy provider to negotiate a new contract, otherwise you may be tied into a ‘deemed contract' and end up paying more than you need to.
Likewise, if you took out a contract after 18 January 2010, your supplier should give you between 60 and 120 days' notice that your contract is about to end. You have 30 days from the date of this notice to either renew your contract by letting it carry on or switch to another provider.
Check for the best deals, including green energy, on switching sites, and try to use as little energy as possible. Take advantage of any free advice or energy saving equipment your energy provider offers; make sure you and your staff switch off equipment that's not in use; and consider installing insulation where possible.
Your energy supplier should conduct an actual reading at least once every two years, but it's a good idea to take more frequent readings yourself. Give these to the provider so you don't fall behind on paying for the actual energy you use.
However, estimates are very common and energy companies can back bill you for up to six years if an actual reading shows you have used more than was estimated. This can result in a very large bill, which will be treated as arrears if you can't pay straight away.
Most suppliers have agreed to follow a voluntary code when dealing with back billing - you can find out more about this on the Energy UK website.
Don't be left in the cold
Contact your supplier as soon as you think you may have difficulty paying your bill to discuss your financial problems and come to an agreement about how much you can afford to repay each month.
They should give you time to pay your bill, but you will need to show that you can pay something towards the debt each month, in addition to your ongoing energy consumption.
Failing to repay the amount outstanding to your energy provider has big implications for your business.
Not only is your supplier likely to disconnect you after giving 14 days' notice, but the failure to pay will also affect your credit record and be visible to potential lenders and business partners.
If you have gone through all the steps mentioned above and are still struggling to pay your bills, it could be time to seek advice from debt experts.