It’s nothing new to hear; fuel costs are expensive. If you’re trying to run a home and keep your family warm and dry on a limited budget, then it can be hard to keep things under control. This is especially true when the UK endures a snap of cold weather, pushing up the cost of your heating and making the resulting bills seem insurmountable.
However, many energy companies have support procedures in place to help make repayments more achievable. Meanwhile, organisations like Charis, a member of Advice UK, can help discuss financial aid options as well as providing guidance and administration for grant applications.
The main thing to remember if you’re struggling with utility bills is not to worry; there is help out there if you know where to look.
Warm Home Discount Schemes
If you’ve been worrying about utility bills, you may have heard about many of the warm home discount schemes being offered by various firms like Scottish Power, British Gas and Eon. Under this initiative, you could get a one-off payment of £140 to help pay for gas and electricity charges.
Unfortunately, as of March 31st 2016 the majority of these schemes ended, and utility firms are no longer accepting applications. However, there are alternative ways to pay off gas and electricity bills.
Using Fuel Direct to Cover Gas and Electricity Costs
If you’re in receipt of benefits, the Fuel Direct scheme (also known as third party deductions) uses any financial aid you’re receiving to help pay bills. A variety of benefits can be used, including income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Universal Credit, Pension Credit and Income Support.
The application process is relatively easy, and if you contact your local pension centre of Jobcentre Plus with your national insurance number, customer reference number and debt details, energy companies will then be told you’re being moved onto third party deductions.
When the process is in place, £3.70 from each benefit you receive will be paid to cover any utility debt. An additional amount will also be taken to cover future bills, though if this is over 25per cent of your total benefits, Jobcentre Plus will discuss this with you first. Though you can’t use this process to settle any debt with previous suppliers or for more than three types of deductions (rent, gas and water, for example), it does offer a convenient way to ensure outstanding bills are settled.
Seek Advice from Your Energy Firm
Many energy companies offer support and advice if you’re unable to pay your bill. EDF and British Gas help with bills, for example, by providing guidance on how to reduce power usage. They may also be able to move you to a cheaper tariff, and even help with outstanding debt.
The EDF Energy Trust can award EDF grants to settle energy debts, whilst the British/Scottish Energy Trust offer a similar scheme. Meanwhile, if you’re a current customer of npower, you can apply for an npower energy grant to settle debts. These firms can be contacted by calling the Charis Grants support line on 01733421060.
Making Your Home More Energy Efficient
One of the best ways to safeguard yourself against future debt, whilst bringing down the cost of gas and electricity is to make your home more energy efficient. Luckily there are a lot of schemes in place to help you do this, from providing insulation to installing new boilers. Many of these are free for everyone, though some of the more expensive options have higher restrictions on who can access them.
- Cavity Wall and Loft Insulation
Insulating your home is one of the best ways to prevent heat from escaping and, therefore, reduce your bills. Most homes built after the 1920’s have cavity walls, and if this is insulated it stops a lot of heat leaving your home. Likewise, because heat travels upwards, insulating your loft can have a positive effect on your energy bill. Many providers give this insulation away for free, even though it’s worth around £700. With savings of around £300 on the average heating bill, you could save a lot of money.
Getting a free boiler is slightly more challenging because of the costs involved. The average boiler is about £2,300 and so they’re not often provided for free. However, if you receive income-based benefits, or have tax credit and a household income lower than £16,010 you might qualify. The process of applying can be fairly intricate so it’s best to call the Energy Saving Trust on 0300 123 1234 (or 0800 1422 865 for Northern Ireland, and 0808 808 22 82 for Scotland).According to the Energy Saving Trust, about 55per cent of what people spend on their heating bills is based on their boiler’s efficiency. Therefore, getting a machine repaired or having a new boiler entirely can significantly cut down bills.
Energy is unlikely to become cheaper any time in the near future, so it’s important to plan ahead. If your bills are becoming more expensive and you’re struggling, or if you’re already in debt, the most important thing is not to worry. Seek support and advice, increase the efficiency of your home and contact your energy supplier for help.