This winter has already had some cold snaps and there’s nothing to say we won’t see more. The problem with this is that many people are already struggling with their gas bill and cold spells mean they need to use more to keep warm. This puts them at risk of what is known as ‘fuel poverty’ a serious problem affecting the most vulnerable in society. And as energy prices look set to continue, what can you do if you get a big gas bill?
What is fuel poverty?
A household is classed as being ‘fuel poor’ if it spends more than 10% of the total household income to be able to have their homes to an adequate level of warmth. In the UK, that definition is set at 21 degrees for the main living area and 18 degrees for the other occupied rooms of the house. There are three components used to calculate this – energy efficiency of the home, overall energy costs and the income of the household.
The government has been working to deal with fuel poverty since 2001 including working with groups such as Age UK and cancer charity Macmillan. Sadly, the problem remains a big one with millions of people thought to be experiencing it around the country. And with a cold winter and the risk from flu, it is no exaggeration to say that people’s lives could be at risk due to the problem.
So what ways you can take to deal with increasing fuel bills, keep the house warm and not endure fuel poverty?
Look at deals
One of the best things to do is look at the energy deals available to make sure you are getting the best price on your gas and electricity. There are lots of online comparison sites but there’s also nothing stopping you calling suppliers like British Gas to talk about your energy needs if you prefer.
Suppliers are under a lot of pressure at the moment to help customers better understand their prices and tariffs and make the process of switching easier. For example, if you are on a variable tariff, then a fixed tariff could save you money and keep a relatively steady bill. And the switching process is now much easier than before with a few clicks or a phone call that could save you hundreds of pounds a year.
Combine your energy
Lots of companies offer a discount on your account if you take both gas and electricity to them and it also makes the whole process of receiving and paying bills a lot easier. It also means if you need to contact a company about something, there’s only one phone call needed. So, by adding the two together you can save money and simplify your energy.
Use direct debit for payments
Another thing that companies will give a discount for is if you pay your bill by direct debit. You can set it up for a specific amount, so you know how much will come out, but you don’t have to take any action, it is automatically processed for you. Companies give a discount for this payment method, often a little on each of gas and electricity.
Install a smart meter
Within the next few years, all homes in the UK are due to have smart meters in place because the government wants to end the problem of overpayment due to estimated bills. Smart meters are free to have installed and offer you a lot of information about what you spend. You can see if a device is costing you a lot of money due to a sudden spike in electricity costs, for example. And you always have an idea about how much you have spent each day, week and month so you are better prepared when your bills do come in.
Provide meter readings
If you don’t have a smart meter yet, always provide meter readings to your company on a monthly basis so you don’t end up overpaying for estimated bills – or underpaying and getting a nasty extra bill somewhere. Make sure your meter readings are up to date which you can do online or via the phone.
Turn down the thermostat
The point of heating is to keep the house warm, but it is surprising what savings you can make by turning down the thermostat by even 1 degree. Aim to have the home at 21 degrees for the living room and 18 degrees for other rooms and if you find it is warmer than this, turn down the thermostat by just one degree – the saving might be surprising. And if someone is always cold, why not get them a nice woolly jumper instead of turning it back up!
Draught proof the home
Escaping heat is wasted gas and electricity so draught-proofing your home can save you money. Door snakes, double glazing windows and even better loft insulation can all improve the energy efficiency of the home and this cuts down on your bills.