Managing Utility Bills
A Guide to Managing Energy Cost, Water and Phone bills by Chesterfield CAB
Rising energy prices are a huge challenge for everyone. There has been a growth in the number of people struggling to achieve affordable warmth, putting pressure on the cost of living. If people cannot afford to heat their home to a comfortable level, there can be serious health concerns. These can include increased susceptibility to strokes, heart attacks, respiratory conditions and mental health problems, all of which may lead to an increase in winter mortality.
Everyone needs to have water and to be able to communicate by telephone in order to fully take part in modern life. The cost of these services is increasingly difficult resulting in people rationing use of services or getting into debt.
This guide aims to give practical tips and guidance to manage the cost of essential utilities. It is a resource produced by Chesterfield Citizens Advice Bureau. We look at:
- Managing the cost of Energy
- Managing the cost of Water
- Managing the cost of Phones
- Useful contacts and sources of Advice
This Guide gives step by step tips to make the cost of essential utility services more manageable. Important contacts for help and advice are detailed here.
People are increasingly raising concerns about the cost of utilities. Groups of consumers are coming together to negotiate 'block prices' with suppliers, others are setting up 'oil clubs'. For more information about this, look at campaigns on websites such as Citizens Advice Campaigns or 38degrees
Pay energy by the most effective means
Many suppliers will offer substantial discounts for paying for fuel in certain ways. This is particularly the case with payment by Direct Debit. Get advice if you do not have a basic bank account.
Find the cheapest or best deal
In many cases, substantial savings can be obtained by changing supplier to one offering a better deal. Do your research thoroughly by using authorised website and telephone 'switch lines' that can work out potential savings exactly. If you have changed already, watch out for any cancellation fees you may be liable for. Do not simply change to the company that sends someone to knock on your door. If you wish to stay with your supplier, ring them up and ask for their 'best deal' on prices; tell them that you are considering moving.
Any energy price comparison sites should be accredited to the OFGEM confidence code. Each energy company will provide an annual summary of your bill for the year and this should include a tariff comparison rate so you can compare your rate with other suppliers.
If eligible, seek out Suppliers Social Tariffs/Warm Home Discounts
Suppliers in recent times have offered social tariffs or discounted prices to people in receipt of particular benefits, tax credits or those who are vulnerable. Some suppliers are now closing their social tariffs and offering 'warm home discounts' or fixed amounts to older people or people in vulnerable groups. If you think you might be eligible, ask your supplier.
Monitor and understand your energy use by reading your meter and avoiding estimated bills
Many people get into fuel debt because they have a succession of estimated bills. If you can, try to provide your supplier with regular readings so your bills are accurate and affordable. If you find it difficult to read and understand bills, then get help so that you are in control of your energy use.
Avoid prepayment meters if you can
Prepayment meters are often one of the most expensive ways of paying for energy. If your meter is recovering money to pay off debt, you sometimes need to put substantial amounts of money into the meter to get a regular supply of energy.
Get some energy efficiency advice
Most energy suppliers offer help if you need tips on energy efficiency. This can help you contain your energy costs and reduce bills. Local Councils can also provide impartial energy efficiency advice and home energy surveys in some cases. The Energy Saving Trust will also advise, call 0800 512012.
Take up any available grants to help improve your insulation and heating systems
Contact your local council or the Energy Saving Trust Check out to see if you may be eligible for energy efficiency improvement grants.
Join the Priority Service Register of your supplier and access free services
All energy suppliers keep a register of customers who may need extra help because they are over pension age, a lone parent or vulnerable in some way. People who join the register may be eligible for free services that include: regular meter reading, gas appliance checks and much more.
If in debt, you only have to repay arrears based on your ability to pay
If you do get into debt with your supplier, let them know as soon as possible that you have a problem. If you make an arrangement with them to repay debt, make sure that you can afford it. Your supplier has to take into account your ability to pay in making any deal about debt.
If in debt ask your supplier if they have a Charitable Trust or Specialist Team who can help you
Many energy suppliers have a separate charity that receives applications to help pay off a pressing energy bill. Other suppliers have special teams to help their customers in debt giving focussed advice about managing payments, benefits advice, energy efficiency and more. Ask your supplier what help they give for people in payment difficulty.
If in debt, you may be entitled to be treated as a vulnerable customer. Make sure that your supplier has a record of this to protect yourself from disconnection
Most suppliers have agreed not to disconnect vulnerable customers in debt. However you will only have this protection if your supplier is fully aware of your situation and has recorded it. Be aware that if you have made several payment arrangements with your supplier and they have not worked, you may be required to accept a prepayment meter other than in exceptional circumstances. Get Advice.
If Budgeting is difficult or you have other debts, that restrict your ability to pay for energy, get advice.
Check that you are receiving all the Benefits you are entitled to.
Many people miss out on benefits or tax credits that they are entitled to. Extra money could help you better afford your energy costs. There are specific payments to help people with energy costs including winter fuel payments and cold weather payments. Find out whether you would be entitled
Get advice: Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 or your local council.
Saving money on water is more of a challenge as we rarely change our water supplier. There are some issues to consider though:
If you pay for water based upon the rateable value of your home, ask your water company whether it's worth changing to a water meter. If you've got more bedrooms in your house than people living there, a water meter that bases your bill on how much you use rather than on your home's rateable value may save you money. For a calculator to work this out, you could look at Consumer Council for Water Calculator. Bear in mind however who would be responsible for the cost of leaks.
Ask your water company, whether the Water Sure Scheme applies to you if you pay for water on a meter. The scheme allows for reduced cost of metered water and applies if you have a large family or are disabled and receive certain types of benefits or tax credits.
The Energy Saving Trust have another water calculator and some tips about how to be efficient with use of water - see EST water saving tips
There is no help available within council tax or housing benefit to meet the cost of water. You should get a benefits/tax credits check from an advice centre to ensure that you are receiving all your entitlements.
If budgeting for water is difficult, ask the company to spread payments over 12 months.
Water companies offer 'extra care' services- assistance so that you are not put at a disadvantage because of your age, disability or illness in comparison with other customers. This may include moving a meter to give better access or issuing bills in suitable formats for you.
If you get into difficulty, paying your water get advice. Non payment of water is even more serious if your water charges form part of the rent that you pay to your landlord; always get advice. Otherwise you cannot be disconnected if you have water arrears. Many water companies have Charitable Trusts that offer grants to people having difficulty paying their bills.
Under Codes of Practice and Regulators guidance (see OFWAT Problems paying bills guidance), water companies should take into account your financial situation, treat you fairly and offer affordable repayments. Get advice from your local advice centre.
If you cannot manage your water arrears, money can be deducted from certain benefits and paid direct to the water company. An amount will be deducted for the water charge you are liable for plus an amount to pay off what you owe.
If you have a home phone, consider saving money by changing to a cheaper supplier. Review what's best for using price comparison services; bear in mind cancellation and connection fees.
Prefer to stick with your existing home phone supplier? Tell them that you are considering moving and ask them to quote you their best deal.
Whatever your phone deal is; make the most of it, for example if you pay less at "off peak" times. If your deal no longer suits you, contact your supplier.
Check whether your supplier has a social tariff to pay for calls at a lower amount. Suppliers often are reluctant to tell you about this. The main social tariff is the BT basic scheme; they are not obliged to take you on however.
You could pay by direct debit and avoid having paper bills; not doing so will invariably mean paying more.
Some people save money by bundling services in a package, for example, phones, internet and TV package.
Consider using 'override' numbers to access cheaper calls. Specialist override providers rates can cost less than main providers' prices and you won't need to change your phone line. You dial a provider's prefix number first before dialing the person's number you wish to speak with. For more details about this, see Money Saving Expert Quick tips to slash costs.
With Mobile Phones, coming to the end of a contract is always a good time to negotiate the best possible deal or change to a different provider.
If you are having payment difficulties with phones, you are at risk of disconnection for non payment. If you are vulnerable and need your phone, it is vital to let your supplier know so they can take action to try and preserve your service. You should get benefits check from an advice centre to ensure that you are receiving all your entitlements. Do get advice from your local advice centre.
Look at the Money saving expert website for the full range of saving money on phone services.
For details of your nearest advice centre: See Advice Derbyshire
The Citizens Advice consumer service provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06
Other useful sources of help:
|Home Heat Helpline||0800 33 66 99|
|Energy Saving Trust||0800 512 012|
|Energy Ombudsman Service||0845 055 0760|
|Consumer Council for Water||0121 345 1000|
|Telephones Ombudsman||0330 440 1624|
|CISAS (Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme)||020 7520 3814|
|Money Saving Expert|
This information is for general guidance only; it does not constitute financial advice. You should always do your own research to work out what is individually right for you based upon your personal circumstances.
We link to other websites but we are not responsible for their content.