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Worried about energy bills? Here are ways to cope

Worried about energy bills? Here are ways to cope

Category: Gas and electricity

Updated: 06/11/2014
First Published: 06/11/2014

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This article was correct at the time of publication. It is now over 6 months old so the content may be out of date.

There's been a noticeable drop in temperature over the last few days. After last week's unexpectedly warm weather it's caught many of us off guard, but it looks as though winter is definitely storming ahead – and so, too, is the need to start turning up the heating. But, this could leave many in a state of panic over how they're going to afford it. Are you one of them?

Fears over meeting the bills

Research from Citizens Advice has highlighted this issue, and perhaps understandably, it's those on low incomes who are most concerned. In a survey of those on the Energy Best Deal – an initiative run by the charity and funded by the industry to help people on low incomes cut their fuel bills – 78% said they were concerned about the cost of their winter energy bills.

A further 17% said that fuel bills were a strain, while 26% said they were unable to heat their home because of the high cost – a particularly worrying figure, suggesting that many could be feeling the cold this year.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, commented: "No-one should have to face a winter in a cold, dark home. Vulnerable people are risking their well-being because they are anxious about bills. It's extremely worrying that 80% of people on low incomes are concerned about the cost of energy."

If you're one of them, just what can you do? Happily, there are a lot of schemes available to help those who could be struggling, but there are also plenty of practical steps you can take yourself to cut your bills this winter.

Government and charitable initiatives

  • Energy Best Deal

As mentioned, this scheme is run by Citizens Advice and paid for by the energy industry, and this year a record £5 million is funding the project. It gives tailored advice to those who are struggling to help them cut the cost of their fuel bills, and can then go on to help them sort out debts and even benefit problems.

"Many people feel like they have no choice but to cut their energy use if they need to reduce their bills, but there is other action you can take," said Gillian Guy. "That's why we're running Energy Best Deal to make sure that people aren't paying a penny more than they need to for fuel this winter. We'll be helping people to make sure that they are getting the best deal, avoiding waste and making the most of the help available from the energy industry and the Government."

  • Warm Home Discount

The Warm Home Discount scheme is a Government initiative that will give vulnerable pensioners (other customers may be eligible depending on the supplier) a £140 discount on their electricity bills this winter. It isn't paid directly to the individual but will be taken from their bill, usually between October and March, but pre-pay or pay as you go customers can also qualify.

  • Cold weather payment

This is a one-off payment of £25 made when the local temperature is either recorded as, or forecast to be, an average of 0°C or below over seven consecutive days. The payment will be made for every seven-day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March, paid directly into the individual's bank or building society account, and is available to those on certain benefits.

  • Winter fuel payment

The winter fuel payment is another Government initiative to help pensioners cover their energy bills, but this time everyone who receives a state pension and is born on or before 5 July 1952 can qualify. A tax-free amount of between £100 and £300 (depending on age and circumstances) is automatically paid into the individual's account between November and December.

  • Green Deal

The Green Deal is a way to help you pay for energy-saving improvements in your home to cut your bills for the long term. It's a Government-backed scheme that's open to anyone looking to make the necessary improvements, and will pay for part or all of the work required, depending on the specific project. It can be used for over 40 improvements, such as loft insulation, double glazing and boiler upgrades, and can take the form of a loan or an outright payment.

Practical steps

Of course, there are several practical steps you can take on the home front to reduce your energy usage and cut your bills in the process. Here are a few to bear in mind:

  • Turn down the thermostat and put on a jumper, as even turning it down by 1°C could save a huge amount of cash.
  • Switch off lights and appliances when not in use. Simple but effective.
  • Use energy-efficient lightbulbs.
  • Insulate your home. Cavity and loft insulation will have the biggest impact, but if your budget won't stretch that far, a spot of DIY draught-proofing could be a great alternative (think draught excluders for doors and letterboxes, check the seals of windows and invest in a chimney balloon).
  • Paying for your bills by direct debit rather than quarterly or by pre-paying could instantly shave pounds off your bills.
  • Switch tariffs! This is perhaps the most important step of all, as you don't want to be paying more for your energy than you need to. Check out our comparison tool to see how much you could save.

What next?

Disclaimer: Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time.

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