Bills, Bills, Bills | Here’s How You Can Reduce Yours For Good

It’s that time of year again. The time of festive cheer, drink, food and family is long gone and now it’s time to pay for it all. An expensive time of the year, and for those struggling to make ends meet, extremely stressful. For some, the fear of what falls through the letterbox every morning increases in the latter months of winter. With energy bills traditionally higher during this period, and having risen for everyone in recent years, this only exacerbates the problem.

There are many ways to ease the situation however. Here are some tips that will hopefully help you save a bit of money.

Planning

It’s all too easy to try and ignore money problems. To turn a blind eye and pretend the problems don’t exist. That is never a good idea however. A missed payment on a bill will probably mean an extra charge, and makes things even worse. Better instead to deal with a lack of money head-on.

Changing Providers

For many, this means giving the “big six” energy companies a swerve. Other suppliers now account for 10% of the market and may prove cheaper. The biggest independent supplier is currently First Utility. They claim that customers can save up to £200 by switching providers. As always, moneysavingexpert.com is a good place to start for advice.

Energy Saving

If you’re happy with your provider, then this could be a good option, with energy bills seemingly always on the rise. Save energy by widening your options. Seek out the The Energy Saving Trust for information on obtaining help with insulating your home and reduce your energy bills. Visit the site and you’ll see that it includes information about the government’s recent Green Deal initiative. The initiative helps people understand how to go about home improvements. For example, pay for something like a new boiler spread over time, through your energy bill.
There is also a Green Deal finance option. Check out Green Deal here.
Energy firms are obliged to offer free heating and insulation to poor households, or in poor areas of the UK, under a 5 year government programme. It’s called the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) – look at Npower’s page on ECO as an example: – http://www.npower.com/at_home/applications/Tactical/eligibilitycheck/overview.aspx
The next obligation period begins in April 2015, so terms may change – a consultation is currently underway.

Government Payments

Winter fuel payment

If you were born on or before 5 July 1952 you are eligible for an annual winter fuel payment. Whilst quite well-known, this is a payment many still fail to claim. Many who would certainly benefit from the extra money. Check to see if you are missing out. The government pay it in November or December each year. The amount varies between £100 and £300, tax-free. If the payment has not previously been sent to you and the governemt does not also provide a a state pension or another benefit (apart from housing benefit, council tax benefit or child benefit), the payment will not be automatic. You need to apply. Too late for this winter, but something to consider for later in the year.

Cold weather payment

This is not a payment to rely on! Subject to certain, infrequent occurrences, the payment is not made regularly. The government give it to certain people when there is a prolonged period of cold weather. Namely a week or more where the average temperature each day is 0C (32F) or below.
You may entitle yourself to the payment if you receive the following:

  • pension credit
  • income support
  • income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • income-related employment and support allowance.

Eligibility rests on other factors (unless on pension credits), such as claiming a disability or pensioner premium, or claiming for a disabled child, or child aged under five.
The payment is £25 for each week of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March. The payment is made automatically, so there is no application process to go through.

Free or discounted TV licences

If aged 75 and over, you are eligible to apply for a free TV licence, or a discount if registered blind or in residential care. If you are 74, you can get a short-term licence to take you up to the free period. For a free licence, an application is needed. Apply for a free or short-term licence online. Applying by phone.(0300 790 6071) is also possible. The licence covers everyone living at your address.
Discounted licences You can get a special licence for £7.50 if you are in residential care – extra guidance can be found here. You must be both retired (or working under 15 hours per week) and over 60, or disabled. The housing manager where you reside can make the application for you. If you are registered blind, or even if you live with someone who is, a 50% reduction is available on TV licences, as long as it is in the name of the blind person.

Council Tax Reductions

(Please note, the following is not available in Northern Ireland – a different scheme operates there). You could be eligible if you’re on a low income or claim benefits. Your bill could in theory be reduced by up to 100%. Homeowners may be eligible as are those who rent, and you could get a discount whether you work or not. Whether you are eligible however depends on numerous factors. Firstly, where you live is important – each council runs its own scheme and so each will have different eligibility rules.

Personal and household income totals are crucial, any benefits you are on, number of children, and any other occupants in the household. Check with your council here to see if you are eligible. If you are the only person in your household, you are eligible to a 25% discount.

Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

If you someone who has renewable energy sources in their household, then there could be incentives you can claim. Items you can claim for are biomass boilers, certain heat pumps and solar water heating. Payments are made for 7 years and are based on the amount of renewable heat made by your heating system. People who join the scheme and stick to its rules, receive quarterly payments for seven years for the amount of clean, green renewable heat their system produces. Payments are made via the domestic RHI scheme.

Eligibility Again, those in Northern Ireland are not eligible. Residents there have a separate scheme to help with installing renewable heating. For the rest of the United Kingdom, you must either:

  1. own your home
  2. be a private or social landlord

New build properties will not normally be eligible. The only exception is if you’re building your own home.

What you’ll get

Use the Domestic RHI payment calculator to find out how much you could get.

How to apply
You need to apply online. Read more about the scheme.

Help paying bills using your benefits

Benefits payments can be used to help pay your bills (including rent, services charges, fuel or water bills) if you’re having difficulties. This is called ‘third party deductions,’ and sometimes Fuel Direct.

How to apply

Contact Jobcentre Plus (or your pension centre if you’re on Pension Credit).
You’ll need:

  1. details of who you owe and how much
  2. your customer reference number (for bills)
  3. National Insurance number

Contact the person or company you owe and tell them you’re going on third party deductions. Set up the repayments and explain how and when the you will pay the bills. For winter 2014 to 2015, you could get a £140 discount on your electricity bill through the Warm Home Discount Scheme. The discount won’t affect your Cold Weather Payment or Winter Fuel Payment. Not everyone gets the discount – you have to qualify.

Energy Assistance Package Scotland

The Energy Saving Trust run this for the Scottish Government. There are four parts:

  1. free advice over the phone from the Energy Savings Scotland advice centre on 0800 512 012.
  2. benefits and tax credit checks and information on low cost energy tariffs. This may trigger eligibility for the Scottish Government’s Universal Home Insulation Scheme (UHIS). It offers energy efficiency measures, such as free loft and cavity wall insulation, depending on where you live.
  3. these same measures are also on offer to older households and people on some benefits. You may qualify if you are a homeowner or the tenant of a private landlord, and you or your partner is: aged 70 or over and you have no central heating; you are aged 75 or over; or you receive a qualifying benefit.
  4. there is also an “enhanced package” which can offer you a new central heating system or a new boiler as well as draught-proofing and insulation. To qualify you must be a home owner or a private tenant who is aged 60 or over, and has never had central heating. It is also on offer to home owners and private tenants in badly insulated homes who are aged 75 or over; or are aged 60 or over, have a child under 16, are pregnant, are terminally ill – and receive one of a large number of qualifying benefits.

The Welsh Government’s Fuel Poverty Scheme

The scheme is called Nest. It provides advice on keeping your house warm. And it offers free improvements to increase the energy efficiency of your home, if certain criteria are met.
If you are living on means tested benefits AND you live in the hardest-to-heat homes you may be eligible for a free new central heating boiler, insulation for a hot water cylinder, loft, cavity wall and solid wall insulation, draught proofing for doors and windows or renewable energy technologies such as solar panels.
Apply by telephoning 0808 808 2244.

Northern Ireland Warm Homes Scheme

The Department for Social Development fund thus. They aim it at owner-occupiers and private renters in Northern Ireland who are also claiming some state benefits. It is not available for public sector properties. The fund gives a grant for a package of energy efficiency and heating measures ranging from insulation to, in some cases, a central heating system if you do not have one at the moment. Householders of any age (the applicant or their spouse) who are in receipt of one or more of the following benefits could be eligible:

  1. income support
  2. the income related employment support allowance
  3. income based job seeker’s allowance
  4. pension credit
  5. child tax credit (with relevant income less than £16,190)
  6. working tax credit
  7. disability living allowance
  8. attendance allowance
  9. housing benefit

Telephone 0800 988 0559

Energy Firms

The big six energy companies (British Gas, SSE, Npower, EDF, Scottish Power and E.ON) have their own advice services. Typically you can find advice on the firms’ websites.Some even offer cash assistance such as the Eon Caring Energy Fund, the EDF Energy Trust Fund, the British Gas Energy Trust, the Scottish Power Energy People Trust, and the Npower Energy Trust. In addition to this, the six big firms launched a campaign in September 2014 to reunite customers with money owed to them from past bills. Look at what they offer. find out what you may be entitled to. Many millions of pounds of credits are left on accounts when people move house and/or change supplier. If you think this could apply to you, contact your old provider. £153m is thought to be lying unclaimed.

Finally, the future….

Better news has arrived for consumers on multiple fronts, which could see us all better off without having to do anything. Firstly, Britain’s water companies have been told by the industry regulator to cut household bills (in real terms) by 5% over the next five years. We estimate that this would mean the average annual bill falling from £396 to £376. Certain providers are cutting the price of gas too. Good news, though with stories recently emerging about other energy companies not meeting similar targets, let’s wait and see (three energy firms have just been fined a total of £4.6m for failing to help low-income households cut their bills). Elsewhere, the price of oil has plummeted, halving in the past six months. The RAC is predicting the possibility of £1 a litre petrol soon, and cheaper fuel helps businesses, inflation levels and thus real wage levels.

Also, the price of (some) food finally seems to be going down, after huge rises in recent years. Prices for fresh foods including milk, cheese and vegetables fell at the steepest rate for at least eight years in October 2014, helping to push down overall shop prices amid a supermarket price war and fierce competition on the high street. Fresh food prices fell by a record 0.4pc in October, representing the first decline in prices since February 2010, while the overall price of food also edged closer towards deflation, growing by just 0.1pc compared with last October. Let’s hope for more of the same in the coming months.

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