The joys of spring: daffodils, new born lambs, and quarterly energy bills

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Fuel Poverty Awareness Day is organised by national fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) in partnership with SSE. We asked Sarah Wright at NEA to shed some light on what fuel poverty entails and how it may affect you. 

JPEG - Small ColourFollowing the arrival of  spring, most of us will be looking forward to the year ahead – until our quarterly energy bills arrive and we realise just what it cost us to keep warm last winter.

Energy price hikes and pressures on household budgets mean that even at the end of a mild winter many people are likely to be struggling to pay their fuel bills. The last official estimate states that 2 million gas and 1.4 million electricity accounts are in debt in Britain, and there are an estimated 4.5 million households in the UK living in fuel poverty.

Next Friday (28th) we’re running Fuel Poverty Awareness Day and we want to share some hints and tips to help you or anyone who’s in fuel debt or worried about keeping warm in their home.

Make sure that your bills are accurate

It’s important that your energy bills are based on actual meter readings and not estimated readings. You can tell if a reading is estimated because it will have ‘E’ next to it on your bill.

If an estimated reading is too high then you’ll pay too much. If it’s too low then you may end up with a large bill once an accurate reading is taken. You can either provide your supplier with a reading or request that the meter is read for you.

Contact your energy supplier

Energy suppliers will help  customers struggling to pay bills but they can only do this if they’re alerted to the problem. Suppliers will work with you to set an affordable repayment plan.

Make sure you tell your supplier if you’re of pensionable age, disabled, chronically sick, with sight or hearing difficulties, or have young children, as you may be entitled to additional help and support through their Priority Services Register and/or the Warm Home Discount.

Claim all of the benefits you are entitled to

Claiming benefits will not only increase your income, it can also make you eligible for other assistance such as a help meeting the costs of heating or insulation measures. To find out which benefits you could be eligible for, use the benefits checker tool on the StepChange.org website.What is fuel poverty

Make your home more energy efficient

Improving the heating and insulation of your home can make a real difference to energy bills. Some measures such as simple DIY draught-proofing, fitting a jacket to your hot water tank and installing low-energy light bulbs cost very little but can help reduce energy bills.

Other measures such as installing loft and cavity wall insulation can make a big difference to bills and some households are eligible for help with meeting the costs of insulation or heating improvements. For more information about saving energy in the home contact the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234.

Switch energy suppliers

Customers who have never switched supplier are more likely to be able to reduce their bills significantly, but most people can reduce their existing fuel costs if they shop around to get the best deal.

The easiest way to do this is to use one of the price comparison websites but make sure that it displays the Ofgem ‘Confidence Code’ logo. You can also phone each supplier directly.

Some customers may be prevented from switching if they’re in debt to their existing supplier, although customers with pre-payment meters are allowed to switch with a debt of up to £500.

Get some extra advice

The Home Heat Helpline is a free service available to individual consumers, advice agencies or people calling on behalf of a friend, neighbour or family member. It can provide advice on energy efficiency and other ways to reduce fuel bills. Phone them on 0800 33 66 99.

Anyone who works with vulnerable and low-income householders can also consult National Energy Action’s Fuel Poverty Action Guide, which provides advice on how to identify and assist people in fuel poverty. This can be downloaded from the NEA website or paper copies are available on request.

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