This winter thousands will find it difficult to cope with the cost of heating their homes. But what can you do to get those bills down and is help available if you simply cannot pay?
Updated on 17 June 2015.
Cut your bills
If you are worried about the cost of energy and paying your bills, the first thing to do is see if you can find ways to use less energy, and pay less for the energy you do use:
Stop wasting energy
There are a wide range of steps you can take to cut your home's energy consumption - and clearly, the less energy you use, the lower your bills will be. The simplest energy efficiency steps break down as follows:
- Turn down the heat (within reason): Turning down the thermostat on your heating by 1C could cut your heating bills by up to 10%.
- Turn down the water temperature: If your water cylinder has a separate thermostat, make sure it is not set too high. Ideally, it should be set to about 60C.
- Keep the cold out: Looking into some simple measures to insulate your home could make it easier to turn down your heating - for instance fitting draft excluders to exterior doors and letterboxes.
- Keep the heat in: Simple things like closing your curtains at dusk will help to keep your home warmer, and therefore reduce your energy usage.
- Save power: Saving electricity might not be directly related to heating your home, but it will have an effect on your bills overall:
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
- Don't leave the TV on standby and don't leave mobile phone chargers plugged in and switched on when they're not in use.
- Do full loads of washing rather than half loads.
- Only boil as much water as you need - but remember to at least cover your kettle's element.
- Fix any leaking hot taps: A single leaking hot tap wastes enough water to fill two baths per month - and each drip will feature on your energy bill.
- Switch to energy saving light bulbs
Compare Dual Fuel Tariffs
Using one provider for electricity and gas can bag you extra discounts, but make sure you pick the cheapest by comparing all the top dual fuel tariffs.Compare Dual Fuel Suppliers
- Visit the Energy Saving Trust to carry out a Home Energy Check online. You could find more ways to save.
Pay less for your energy
Now is the time to make sure you are getting the best possible deal from your energy supplier - and if you can get a better deal elsewhere, now is a good time to switch. The steps you can take here are:
- Compare suppliers and switch to save.
- Look at getting your gas and electricity from the same supplier. Many suppliers offer 'dual fuel' discounts, so you will often save money by doing this. However, check if you can save more by switching to two different suppliers before putting both your eggs in one basket.
- Make sure you are on your energy supplier's cheapest possible tariff: Your energy bill is calculated according to the amount of energy you use (units) and how much your supplier charges you for each unit (tariff). Get in touch with your supplier to find out if you could switch to a cheaper tariff.
- If possible, switch to paying by Direct Debit and paperless billing. Many energy companies offer discounts to customers who agree to pay by Direct Debit. It's also likely that you'll be able to cut on your costs simply by switching to paperless billing. All this means is that instead of receiving bills in the post, you'll get emails from your energy supplier and can manage your account and submit meter readings online. Talk to your energy supplier to see if either or both of these options could save you money.
- Take regular meter readings. If you do not read your meter regularly, and submit readings to your supplier, your bill may be based on 'estimated readings'. This could mean you are paying for energy you have not used.
- Make some home improvements. Looking at issues like loft and cavity wall insulation could save a lot of money over the longer term, and you may find that grants to help pay for them are available.
- Get cheap heating oil by buying it when it is cheapest (usually the summer), buying in bulk (buying as a group with others may help) and maintaining your oil tank to avoid costly leaks or paying for a new one if it breaks down.
Get help paying your bills
In the end, however, for thousands of people across the UK, fuel poverty is a daily reality. If you are unable to pay your gas and/or electricity bills it is vital that you do not ignore the problem.
Remember that energy companies are obliged to find ways to help you pay, whilst there are a range of initiatives out there to provide assistance and advice.
Here are some useful contacts
- Help for the over 60s: Winter Fuel Payments of up to £250 are available to people over the age of 60. Those over 80 can claim £400. For a claim form or more information contact the Winter Fuel Payment hotline on 08459 15 15 15.
- Help with bills: The Home Heat Helpline provides free, confidential advice to anyone concerned about paying their energy bills.
- Help from your supplier:
10 home heating tips
We share our top 10 tips to help you to cut the cost of heating your home this winter.
- Turn your thermostat down by 1 degree - You're unlikely to notice the difference in temperature but could cut your heating bill by £65.
- Close your curtains - Drawing your curtains at dusk will help keep the heat from escaping and will make a big difference even if you have single glazed windows. Generally the thicker the curtains the better.
- Bleed your radiators - This will release any trapped air and help to make them more efficient.
- Don't heat empty rooms - Only switch radiators on in rooms that you frequently spend time in, make sure you shut the doors though to keep the rest of the house warm.
- Remember radiators aren't washing lines - Although hanging clothes on radiators will mean you get them dry quicker it also means that you're stopping the heat getting to the rest of the room.
- Say goodbye to drafts - By using draft excluders or fitting curtains on external doors and making sure letter boxes and keyholes aren't letting out heat unnecessarily you'll be able to make indoors feel much warmer.
- Put on an extra layer - Before you switch the heating up a notch make sure you're wrapped up warm. Putting on a pair of slippers and a jumper and sitting under a blanket will help you to stay toasty without any extra cost.
- Use the timer - Heating the house while you're out is nothing more than a waste of money. However, if you don't like to come home to a cold house it's a good idea to set the heating to come on just before you arrive home. This way you won't notice any difference in temperature but will notice a big difference in your bill. The same applies to nighttime, set the timer for just before you get up so that you're not heating the house while you're tucked up in bed.
- Get the tin foil out - Fitting foil behind radiators will help reflect the heat back into the room instead of being absorbed by the wall. This works particularly well on exterior walls and while you can buy special radiator foil, tin foil works just as well.
- Check your energy plan - Taking a few minutes to make sure your current energy supplier is offering you the best deal will make a big difference to your heating bills this winter. Read our guide Slash your Utility Bills for more information.
Written by Hannah at money.co.uk