This week the Met Office issued severe weather warnings across the UK, forecasting heavy snow, harsh frosts and bitterly cold temperatures. With January predicted to continue in this vein, many of us will be cranking up the heating in our home to keep warm.
Unfortunately, this means we are likely to see a spike in the price of our gas and electricity bills. If you're worried about how you will afford an increase in your energy bills it is crucial you take action today. Luckily there are simple steps you can take to help keep your energy costs down.
Switch to a better deal
Your first move should be to check you are on a competitively priced tariff. If you have never changed your energy provider, or haven’t done so in the last 12 months, you could save up to £430 by switching today.
This is because the majority of energy companies tend to reserve their very best deals for new customers. If you never take the time to shop around and compare different tariffs it is very likely you are paying more than you need to.
Right now, npower’s Sign Online 17 tariff takes the prize for the most competitive energy deal on the market, costing an average of £907 per year for the average user. This undercuts the next cheapest deal by around £20 a month, and is over £300 cheaper than their standard plan alternatives.
This deal is for online customers only and you must pay your bill by monthly direct debit. Be aware that if you switch away before 31 March 2011 you will be charged a £20 cancellation fee per fuel.
On the other hand you may prefer to choose a fixed rate energy tariff, which will protect you from future price hikes.
One of the best fixed rate deals currently on the market is the OVO Energy New Energy tariff, costing an average of £921 per year fixed for 12 months. To take advantage of this offer you must be willing to pay by direct debit and sign up to paperless billing. If you leave within the first 12 months of joining you may be charged an early termination fee of £30 per fuel.
Get a better boiler
At the end of 2009, the government announced plans in its pre-budget report to introduce a new boiler scrappage scheme.
This scheme, which came into effect on 5 January 2010, offers £400 off the cost of a new energy efficient boiler when you trade in an old, inefficient boiler (G-rated or worse).
Following in the government’s footsteps, both npower and British Gas have now also launched boiler scrappage schemes of their own. Both energy companies are offering customers an additional £400 saving when they replace a boiler over 10 years with a new energy efficient system. This means if you take advantage of both savings, you could save £800 in total.
However if you want to claim your boiler discount you need to act fast. The government scheme is only available to 125,000 households and with around 3.5 million home in England thought to house G-rated boilers it is important to apply sooner rather than later.
Although buying a new boiler can be expensive, costing typically around £1,500 to £2,000, it could make you serious savings in the long run.
In fact according to Energy Saving Trust replacing a G-rated boiler with an A-rated energy efficient boiler could cut your household bills by up to around 25 per cent - in addition to significantly reducing your carbon footprint.
What further steps can you take?
If you are struggling to pay your heating bills, there is financial support available during the winter months.
If you are over 60 you are likely to qualify for a Winter Fuel Payment and could receive anything up to £400 in benefits depending on your individual circumstances. You can find out more information on direct.gov.uk.
There are also a number of grants available, such as the Warm Front Grant, to help you improve the energy efficiency of your home. You can learn more about these on the Energy Saving Trust website.
Finally, there are simple inexpensive steps you can take yourself to help reduce your energy bills.
For example, lowering your thermostat by just one degree could cut your energy costs by as much as 10 per cent and save you an extra £55 a year. Meanwhile if you use energy saving lightbulbs, not only will they last longer than ordinary bulbs they could save you around £40 over the lifetime of the bulb. And remember, running one full load in the washing machine or dishwasher uses far less energy than two half loads.
Victoria Bischoff is a personal finance writer at BeatThatQuote.comReuse content