It’s tempting to reach for the thermostat when temperatures fall during the winter months. But heating your home requires energy, and if you’re struggling to keep up with the cost of gas and electricity you might think twice. Read on to discover how you can keep the heating on without running up an unsustainable debt.
In this guide:
Check your bill
Talk to your supplier
See if you can get help
Stop it happening again
Most households heat their homes using gas or electricity. During the summer months, the only heat you need is for your hot water, so bills are much lower. But as the temperatures fall and your heating is needed to keep your home warm, your consumption can rise sharply. If your latest bill has left you worried about meeting your energy costs, read on for ways in which you can tackle the problem head-on to stay warm over winter.
While it's rare, there's always a chance your bill could be wrong. Get a copy of your most recent energy bill and check:
If it's actual or estimated
If your bill is estimated, it's based on typical usage rather than what you've actually used. Take a new meter reading and contact your supplier to update your account.
Your meter reading
This might be wrong, so call your supplier to give them an up-to-date meter reading. You should also check that the MPRN on your meter matches the number on your bill, otherwise you could be paying for your neighbour's heating.
If you're on the right tariff
Check the tariff on your most recent bill matches up to previous copies. You may have come to the end of a fixed tariff and been automatically rolled on to an expensive standard variable tariff, which means you'll pay more for your energy.
If your supplier has changed their prices
Compare the unit rate and standing charges on your most recent bill to a previous bill. If your supplier has upped its prices, then you should have been notified in advance unless you’re on a staggered or tracked tariff (where prices can change without notice as part of your contract). If you’re on a standard variable tariff, you should be able to switch to another tariff or supplier without being charged. You may even have grounds to make a complaint.
It sounds obvious but checking your energy bills is vital if you want to avoid being overcharged. Pop them in a folder if you get them in the post or set time aside each month to log in to your online account.
Many energy suppliers offer apps to help you keep track of your energy usage. This means you can check the cost of your heating easily, wherever you are.
The moment you realise you’re going to struggle to pay your bill, call your energy supplier. The longer you put it off, the more debt you’ll build up and the harder it’ll be to pay it back.
If you're having difficulty paying your bills, energy companies are obliged to provide options to allow you to pay back what you owe.
This could be anything from a plan to split the cost over several separate payments, or a cheaper tariff. The Citizens Advice website explains how to go about agreeing a payment plan with your energy company.
There are lots of charities and government schemes that could help you with the cost of your heating bill:
There are several ways in which fuel-poor people – particularly pensioners – can receive help to pay for their higher energy consumption during the winter. Check out schemes such as the Warm Home Discount, the Winter Fuel Payment, and Cold Weather Payments. You may also be eligible for grants to help insulate your home to reduce your heating bills further – check for more details on the GOV.UK website. You're more likely to get benefits if you're on a low income or over 60, but it's always worth checking.
There are lots of free resources online that can help you manage your debt. The National Debtline charity has a freephone number (0808 808 4000) that's open from 9am-8pm weekdays, and 9.30am-1pm on a Saturday.
The Money Advice Service also offers a full list of free debt advice services in the UK.
Once you're back on top of your energy bill payments, there are lots of ways to avoid paying too much for your heating going forward.
If you haven't already, look to fix the cost of your energy when it's time to renew your tariff.
Fixed tariffs are the cheapest way to pay for your gas because the unit price of your energy is fixed at the start of your contract.
So, while your bill will still fluctuate based on how much energy you use, the basic rate stays the same.
What's more, if your supplier tries to put your prices up during the contract period, you can switch to another company without charge.
It's usually cheaper to pay for your energy by direct debit, and it means you won't fall behind because you've forgotten to pay your bill.
What's more, by setting a fixed monthly amount based on your estimated annual usage, you’ll end up being able to budget consistently, knowing that the overpayments you make during the summer will build up credit to cover the increased cost of keeping warm in the winter.
Smart meters can help you monitor your energy usage in real time. Plus, energy companies are installing them for free, so it won't cost you a penny.
The government wants smart meters in all homes by June 2021, so if you’ve not yet been contacted by your energy supplier, you should expect to hear something soon. Alternatively, take a proactive approach and register your interest now so when your supplier comes to fit smart meters in your area, you’ll be higher up the list.
Last updated: 21 December 2020