Bills and Debt

Keeping on top of your money and dealing with money problems

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These are your heating and lighting and cooking bills and are usually the biggest cost after housing and food bills. You can get big savings by checking the costs, switching suppliers and making sure you are getting the help you are entitled to – many people save over £200 by following the steps below…

Find out what payment plan you are on

If you are on a tariff called ‘standard variable’ for electricity and/or gas you are probably paying too much.

If you are on a prepayment meter you will also be paying more than you would on a credit meter.

To find out your plan:

  • Contact your electricity and gas suppliers and ask them, OR
  • Wait for your first bill to arrive – the plan name should be on there and explain how charges are calculated

If you don’t know who your supplier is ask your landlord or ask the distribution companies

  • For gas call the Meter Number Helpline on 0870 608 1524 (these calls are charged)
  • For electricity supplies in the East of England the regional distribution company is 0800 783 8838 / 0333 202 2021 for mobiles

REMEMBER – If you are the bill payer you have the right to change suppliers so that you can get the best deal – this includes anyone renting who pays their own energy bills


Compare prices

There are lots of websites to help you compare prices from different suppliers- see list here

If you don’t have access to the internet get in touch with your local  advice agency, housing association or library and find out how you can get online to compare prices.

The comparison sites are easy to use and quickly show you how much you could save.

To compare prices you will need your postcode and ideally your most recent bill so that you know how much gas and electricity you are actually using -if you are new to the property and don’t have this the comparison site will estimate how much you use based on the size of your property.

Look through the offers carefully and  see which is best for you needs:

  • Is it a fixed price tariff? This means it will stay the same price throughout the deal
  • How long is the deal for? Is there a charge if I leave the deal early?
  • How will I pay? Some deals  require you to pay by direct debit

If you do switch remember to make a note of the deal offered and the contact details for the new supplier and take your meter readings on the day switch over- take a photo if you can on a smartphone

Even if you decide you don’t  want to check out comparison sites always call your existing supplier at least once a year and make sure you are on the cheapest deal with them.


Prepayment (pay as you go) meters

These can be helpful in that you know how much you are spending as you go along but you will be paying more. If you are moving to Universal Credit you may find it easier to swap onto a credit meter as you will be receiving monthly benefit payments.

If you want to swap to a credit meter there may be a charge but check with your supplier – the larger companies usually do free.

Don’t forget even if you are on a prepayment meter you can still compare prices and get better deals. If you have debt (up to £500) on your prepayment meter you can still switch.


Help with energy bills

If you are worried about how to pay your bills or can’t afford to pay there is free help available. Let your supplier know you are struggling and get advice from:

  • Your Housing Association if you live in social housing
  • Local Citizens Advice

There are also grants and discounts to help with energy costs:

  • Warm Home Discount £140 this  is for electricity bills only and is a credit added to your electricity account by your supplier. If you receive the guarantee element of pension credit you automatically qualify – for other households on benefits or low income it is easy to check with your supplier whether or not you qualify for a warm home discount.
  • Winter Fuel Payment up to £300 for older people who are eligible
  • Stay Well grants – up to £300 towards future heating costs for vulnerable households. You must be referred by an organisation supporting you
  • Cold weather payment only paid for periods of very cold weather lasting 7 days or more between 1st Nov and 31st March to eligible claimants
  • Fuel Direct (third party deductions) – payment of debt by direct deduction from benefits
  • Grant help with energy debt – there are a lot of different schemes. We recommend visiting CHARIS for up to date information

Using less energy

There are lots of ways you can save energy around the home. Simple steps make a big difference

  • Avoid leaving appliances on standby
  • Only boil water in kettle that you need
  • Use draught excluders
  • Take shorter showers

The Energy Saving Trust has lots of useful ideas for saving energy here


Keeping track

Make sure you know how much electricity and gas you are using

  • Always check your meter regularly. Smart meters are being introduced to help people keep track of costs more easily – more here
  • If you are unsure how to read a meter your energy supplier will be able to advise you – use their website or helpline
  • If you have difficulty reading your meter because of the location get in touch with your supplier as they may be able to help you. Check out if you are eligible to go on the Priority Services Register this will also give you extra help in an emergency

Do you use home heating oil?

If your house uses heating oil you need to plan ahead as oil is usually bought in minimum loads of 500 litres. Make sure you work out how often you will need to top up your tank and shop around for the best deals.

You can find out the average cost of oil on the Boiler Juice website, but always try several suppliers before you buy – prices will vary and they will often compete to offer you the lowest price.