Rocketing energy prices will once again cause huge problems for many people this winter.
According to independent watchdog Consumer Focus, energy is now almost twice as expensive as five years ago, bringing the typical household’s combined annual gas and electric bill to around £1,240.
Research suggests this is leaving an estimated nine million people in England struggling to cope with fuel poverty – where at least 10 per cent of their income is spent on gas or electricity.
Under pressure to come up with answers, the government has all but admitted there is no chance of it taking drastic action to bring prices down, instead giving customers advice they are sure to have heard before: switch suppliers if you want the best deal.
But with the big six energy companies regularly matching each other’s price rises, shopping around alone is unlikely to help those most in need.
However there is help at hand for people on low incomes, the elderly and other vulnerable groups, but many people just aren’t aware of what’s available.
Which? magazine recently published figures showing that two-thirds of 65-year-olds are missing out on a grant specifically designed to help them.
Most consumers don’t know they are entitled to a rebate if their electricity, gas or water supplies are disrupted.
Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which? said: ‘With people struggling to pay their energy bills this winter it’s vital that this information gets to the people who need it most.’
So to let people know what help is out there, Streetwise has taken a look at the measures that could help you tackle your energy costs.
n Warm Home Discount
This is an initiative set up by agreement between the government and energy companies that provides those eligible with a one-off payment of £120.
Most suppliers have now signed up to the scheme, which targets vulnerable people and those in receipt of pension credit.
It is up to the company to decide if you qualify, but if you think you might it is worth giving them a call.
n Free Home Insulation
Officially called the Home Energy Saving Programme this is a government scheme designed to provide low-income and pensioner households with free loft and cavity insulation (and half-price insulation for everyone else).
A properly-insulated house can dramatically reduce heating costs, so it is worth considering even if you have to pay out in the short-term.
Call the government help line number on 0800 512 012 for more details.
n Winter Fuel Payment
Those over 60 will qualify for a payment of between £100 and £300 from November.
If you have not had the payment before and are not getting 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 by calling 08459 151 515.
n Cold Weather Payment
This is a payment of £25 which is made when temperatures drop to zero degrees centigrade (or below) for seven consecutive days.
You are entitled if you receive a range of benefits including pension credit and jobseekers allowance.
It is made automatically between November and March, but contact the government on the number given above if you think you are missing out.
n Claiming Compensation
You can get £20 compensation if your energy or water company representatives are late for appointments, £54 compensation if energy companies don’t restore a gas or electricity supply within 18 hours of it being cut off – with another £27 due to you for each further 12 hours of disruption.
You can also get £20 from an energy company if they fail to provide an explanation for inaccurate meter readings or from a water company if they don’t give you 48 hours’ notice of an interruption to your water supply.
n Warm Front England
This is a scheme that can provide substantial grants to privately-owned or rented homes to help people afford things such as loft insulation, draught-proofing and gas, electric or oil central heating.
Grants range up to £2,700 – or up to £4,000 if your home needs oil central heating.
To apply you will need to complete a form before an adviser visits you to assess and recommend work for your property. Call 0800 316 2805.
n Supplier Schemes
In addition to the government initiatives listed above, there are also many cheaper tariffs and schemes run by the companies themselves.
In an ideal world these would all be automatic for elderly or vulnerable people, but sometimes it is a case of if you don’t ask, you won’t get.
So call your supplier, tell them your circumstances, and find out what they can do to take the pressure off.