How to deal with the rising cost of energy 

By Rachel Moffat, Coordinator of Bristol Energy Network

As the next energy price cap rises on April 1st people will see their energy bills soar and, as energy is needed for our food, transport and production, all those costs of daily living will rise too. 

There are some things that we can do if we are struggling to pay our energy bills. The first and most important thing to do is to contact your supplier as soon as you feel like you are struggling. Under the Standard Licence Conditions set by Ofgem, the suppliers have a responsibility to their customers to offer information, guidance and support when a customer is struggling. If you or anyone in your household is vulnerable, whether that be due to age, physical or mental ill health, communication barriers or a change in circumstances, then make sure you register for the Priority Services Register. You will need to register (online or over the phone) with both your energy supplier and the network operator (your supplier details are on your bill, find out which is your network Operator here) and by doing so, the companies will know that you might need a little extra support with any issues that arise. 

If you contact your energy supplier because you are worried about paying your bill, you should ask them what hardship grants they have available. Most suppliers require you to fill in forms about your financial situation. If you need support with this, you can contact a local advice centre or Citizen’s Advice who could assist you to fill in the forms. The British Gas Energy Trust offer grants to anyone, not just British Gas customers, but you need to work through their checklist, which includes talking to an advice service about money before applying. Turn2us is another organisation that offers great advice, benefits calculators and an extensive list of trusts and grants that are available for lots of people in different circumstances. 

Thinking about the different ways we can pay for our energy is another possible way to reduce our bills. The cheapest way to pay for energy is by direct debit, it can usually save you about £90 per year. The other benefit of direct debit is that you will pay the same amount each month over the summer and winter despite the fact that you will use less energy in summer. This means that there won’t be a massive increase in your energy costs come winter time, but remember that direct debits are based on an estimation of your use, so if you use a lot more energy than expected, your direct debit will go up to reflect that.

Prepayment meters offer a lot of control over your energy use but it is really important that nobody self disconnects. If you are worried about your gas or electric meter running out you’re not able to top up, then contact your supplier and ask for emergency credit. If you have a prepayment meter and haven’t had previous debt with your supplier you can ask to switch to a credit meter to take advantage of paying by direct debit. 

If you have an older prepayment meter (the type you top up with a key or card) then, if you can, top up before the 1st of April before the price cap goes up. This will mean you will have the cheaper energy prices for as long as that credit lasts. This will not work with the newer smart prepayment meters, they will automatically update on the 1st of April. There is a helpful article here with more details on how that works. 

Preparing for next winter will be really important. Those on prepayment meters will feel the impacts of this coming price increasemore when next winter comes and they need to use more heating. At the end of summer, start looking out for mention of the Warm Homes Discount (a discount of £140 off your winter electricity bill) that you might be eligible for. Those on guaranteed pension credit will receive this automatically but a wider group can also apply. Each supplier has different criteria so make sure you take a look or call and ask them if you qualify. Generally it is for those on low income or in receipt of certain benefits. The earlier you apply for the Warm Homes Discount the better and some suppliers have a short window for applications so apply as soon as you see it mentioned.

The Winter Fuel Payment is an automatic payment of between £100 and £300 for people who were born on or before 26 September 1955 and receive a state pension or other social benefits. You may be able to apply for the Winter Fuel Payment if you do not receive it automatically and you are eligible. The payment is intended to help with heating bills and is not means tested. Should you not need your Winter Fuel Payment to help cover your bills, maybe you could consider donating it to one of the amazing fuel poverty charities out there such as NEA, Citizens Advice or the many local charities supporting people in your area. 

If the temperature in your area drops below 0°C for 7 days in a row next winter, and you receive certain benefits, then you will be eligible for a Cold Weather payment of £25 (per 7 days below zero) towards your bills. This should come automatically from the government but if there’s been a cold spell and you think you qualify then double check to make sure you have received it. 

The next year is going to be a challenging time financially for a lot of people. It is really important that everyone’s home is warm and healthy. If you are concerned about paying your bills or thinking about not topping up your meter, then call your supplier immediately and look for support from some of the organisations mentioned above and others such as the Centre for Sustainable Energy. Once your immediate needs are met, then think about ways you can reduce your energy use around the home and make DIY upgrades to reduce draughts and improve ventilation. You can find some simple energy saving tips here on Bristol Energy Network’s website. The cheapest energy is the gas and electricity we don’t use so if we can find ways to (healthily) reduce your energy use then it will reduce our energy bills too.