Big Energy Saving NetworkEnergy advisors have been supporting Town & Country Housing residents to take a good look at their bills and to see if they can save any money. Many of us have been paying more than we need to and think it’s more trouble than it’s worth to shop around. In fact, there has never been a more important time to protect yourself from rising energy tariffs. In 2015, energy companies made an extra £1.2bn out of most of us not bothering to check our bills.

Check your tariff

On every bill you receive, your energy company tells you if you can save money by switching to a different tariff. Take a good look at your bill and see what your current supplier is telling you. If you’re on their standard variable tariff, then you need to ask them to give you for a fixed tariff. You can usually fix your energy tariff for a year, but, in some cases, you can fix for up to four years.

Look at the payment method you are using

Energy companies offer better tariffs for people who pay by direct debit and they also offer an annual discount of about £70 – £80.

If you opt for a fixed direct debit, your energy supplier will calculate a fixed monthly sum that means that you’ll be in credit in the Summer and owe a little bit more in the Winter.

It’s worth trying to make this payment method work for you because it will keep you paying the cheapest rates for your energy and that means you stand a better chance of keeping all your bills under control. If it looks as if you are going to end up in debt by the end of the year, your energy company will tell you that they intend to increase your monthly direct debit amount. If this is going to cause problems, call them and discuss things with them. They can be nicer than you think!

Remember to regularly send in accurate meter readings, this means that there will be no nasty surprises based on estimated use. If you’re not confident reading your meter, you can ask your energy company to do this for you.

Shop around

If you’re confident and happy using switching websites, you can shop around and see if there are any energy suppliers that can beat your current tariff. While you’re online looking at tariffs, have a think, too, about having an online account. Again, some of the cheapest tariffs are only available online and all energy companies offer a £10 – £15 discount for going paperless.

Good switching sites need to be regulated by OFGEM and include: My Utility Genius; U-Switch (remember to tick the box “show me the whole market”); Go Compare; Moneysupermarket and Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert.

Are you eligible for extra support in the Winter months?

If you are in receipt of benefits like:
Disability allowance, Working Tax Credit, ESA/ your household income is less than £16, 190, then you may qualify for a £140 credit to your electricity bill. This is government funding that is paid to vulnerable householders to support them through the cold months of the year.

There is a core group who receive guaranteed pension credit and who automatically receive the Warm Home Discount. There is also a “broader eligibility group” who are in receipt of certain benefits who need to let their energy company know that they are eligible. Only certain energy companies (all the big ones, known as the “Big Six”) offer this, so it is something to look out for if you’re thinking of switching supplier. It’s worth switching to one that does offer the Warm Home Discount, especially if their tariff is also cheaper. It’s not worth switching away from a supplier who does offer the tariff to one that doesn’t – unless you can save more than £140.

Check the link above for more information, and check with your supplier. You need to be their customer in July, apply to the scheme any time from August/ Sep/ October when the scheme launches and GET IN QUICK. Since the beginning of the year, schemes with certain providers have been closing as they have already run out of funds.

Priority Services Register

Elderly, frail, vulnerable people can and should register on the Priority Services Register. This is operated by UK Power Networks who run our grid. If you are registered, then you are first on the list and a priority to be reached in the event of a power cut. This may be particularly important for people who rely on medication.

People on the register who are partially- sighted can have their bills in larger script. If you can’t read your gas or electricity meter, then someone will come and read it for you.

To register yourself or someone else, the quickest way is to go online. If you prefer to speak to someone, call your energy company.

What if I’m in debt?

Finally, if your energy bills have become unmanageable and you are facing rising debt, don’t turn a blind eye to it. Having advised thousands of people about their energy bills, we know that it’s always best to talk to the energy company directly. Here are some further options:

Speak to your energy provider about setting up a payment plan to clear any outstanding debt. This could be as simple as asking that the debt be cleared over a longer period. Instead of trying to clear a debt of £480 over a year, with monthly payments of £40, you could ask for the payment to be spread across 3 years and pay less than £14 a month.

You can also apply to the British Gas Energy Trust (you don’t have to be a British Gas customer) or check to see if your current provider runs an Energy Trust fund. This can be a way of clearing some, or all, of your debt. This is aimed at vulnerable individuals and there is quite a long form to complete. If you are facing hardship and cannot see a way through, then take this step. Help is there.

Still worried? Do seek advice from Citizens Advice, especially as they can also help you with wider issues of debt.