UPDATE: This article was published in November 2015. Make sure you’re up to...
Keep warm, avoid fuel poverty
In September 2011 we released figures that showed that almost a third of people contacting us are in fuel poverty.
Our figures revealed that these people needed an average of £302 extra coming in each month to be able to afford their basic living costs, with no money whatsoever to offer to their creditors.
If energy prices continue to rise, this shortfall will continue to get bigger. So with this in mind, here are our top tips to keeping warm this winter without breaking the bank.
- Martin Lewis seems to scream this down the TV more than I have hot dinners, but there’s a reason for it! SWITCH, SWITCH, SWITCH! Timing is important as all of the large energy firms have recently increased their prices. If you’re like me and not convinced whether switching will help, you can look at locking into a cheap fixed tariff. This may be more expensive at the moment but could protect you against future rises. Try our utility switching service to see what you can save.
- I should really practice what I preach when I say read your meter and check your bills. Like many people, my bills are paid by direct debit on an estimated basis. I know exactly how much I have to budget each month but reading the meter is the only way to make sure you’re paying for what you actually use. Most energy providers have useful guides on their website telling you how to read your meter if you’re not sure, like this one from British Gas.
- Find out what help is available to you. If you’re struggling, it’s often a good idea to speak to your provider in the first instance. They may be able to switch you to a more affordable plan. They also have trust funds available that may be able to help you. Look through this useful energy help guide from the BBC to see what advice is available. You can also look through the Grants and Discounts Database from the Energy Saving Trust to see what’s out there for your property.
- Work out what’s cheaper for you. If you have the choice of using electricity or gas, choose to use the one which burns less. For example is it cost effective to use the gas boiler to heat water in the summer or is it better just to use the electric immersion heater? And is it cheaper to use a gas cylinder heater or an electric fan heater? There’s no hard and fast rule so you’d need to test it to make sure. And if you live in the countryside and use oil, look into joining an oil club.
- Get rid of the draughts. Replacing your windows and doors with double glazing is a costly exercise and the benefits can take many years to pay back the costs. You can draught-proof your doors fairly easily yourself without shelling out a fortune by making a few snakes! For your windows you can buy a roll of self-adhesive foam rubber draught strips for less than a fiver. You’ll see immediate improvements and you can pat yourself on the back for doing a bit of DIY!
- Don’t forget about the water. It’s easy to forget that you can cut your water bills if you’re savvy enough. Is it better for you to have a water meter fitted? It’s an important decision because you can’t reverse it if you decide to go for one but it can save you lots if it’s right for you. This guide to cutting your water bills gives you lots of useful points to consider.
- Every little helps with the water. Rather than following the rule of ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down’ think about the option of fitting a water saving device in your toilet. Also check your local council to see if they provide discounts on water butts.
- There’s mixed reviews on zoned heating, but it can save you money if you turn down the radiators in rooms that you don’t use. Monitor it to make sure that it doesn’t cause a condensation problem; just turning them down a few degrees can make a big difference.
We hope you find tips useful – go and use them and save money! And we’d love you to let us know if there’s any more that we’ve missed or if you swear by something that we’ve never heard of. The obscure ones usually work the best!
And if you’ve already tried all of the above and it’s a three dog night, turn the heating off, put on a few jumpers, switch off all the lights and cosy up under a blanket (or dogs if you’d prefer!).
*Updated December 2013