CHRISTMAS may be over, but spiralling energy bills are leaving Oxfordshire householders facing an uncertain winter this new year.
Customers are facing hikes of up to 10.4 per cent as the “big six” energy firms put their prices up, with others expected to follow suit.
It comes after the Citizens’ Advice Bureau revealed that E.ON, npower, British Gas, SSE, EDF and Scottish Power – known as the big six – have increased their prices for gas and electricity by an average of 36 per cent since October 2010.
It also comes as the Met Office warns that a harsh winter lies ahead, while concerns have been raised about the impact the price rises will have.
Sophie Moss, general advisor from Barton Advice Centre, said: “I would say we have seen an increase in people worrying about whether they are going to be able to pay their bills.
“I have had quite a few people in asking about the Warm Home Discount Scheme which gives them help with their fuel bills.
“The suppliers tend to contact the client if they are available, but clients can contact suppliers themselves.
“People have got budgeting problems and they are struggling and worrying about their bills.
“Sometimes some of the energy suppliers themselves help people.”
She added: “I think there are people worrying about it because they are at home all day and also they are disabled people.
“For us we go to a nice warm office in the day. They have to find ways of heating it all day. They are the ones worrying about this.”
Ms Moss said: “You are probably having to choose between food and heating.”
Rachel Boland, information and advice service manager at Age UK Oxfordshire, said: “With fuel costs rising, there’s no doubt that using less energy can save us money.
“However, that doesn’t mean we should use less than we need – cold homes can seriously endanger health, especially for older people.
“Age UK’s guide ‘Save Energy, Pay Less’ has lots of information on ways you can reduce costs while remaining warm and well, such as drawing your curtains early in the evening to keep heat in or joining a local oil bulk-buying scheme.
“On our helpline, we receive a lot of calls from people who are finding it hard to meet their bills and we are commonly checking welfare benefits with callers to make sure they are getting everything they are entitled to.
“It is crucial that everyone knows how to access the help and support they are entitled to this winter, they can do this by calling our Information and Advice line on 0844 887 0005.”
Energy saving tips
INSULATION: Under a Government initiative called the Energy Company Obligation, people can pay for energy-efficiency improvements through savings on their energy bills.
- Householders may be able to get measures either fully of partly funded.
- A pilot project in Barton, Oxford, to provide external wall insulation for 26 properties, is now being extended to some residents in the OX3 and OX4 postcode areas to install energy-saving measures.
- Energy-saving measures which could be funded under the scheme include loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, replacing boilers and external wall insulation. For further information visit oxford.gov.uk
- Draught excluder: There are draught-proofing products available for doors and windows, skirting boards can be sealed with silicone sealant and there are chimney draught excluders available as well as sealed fire guards.
- This could save £55 in a draughty home.
LIGHTING: Be aware of unnecessary lights left on and appliances left plugged in or on standby. A typical household could save between £50 and £90 a year by turning off appliances left on standby.
HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES: Be careful of how you use your kitchen appliances and you could save more than £55 a year.
- Tips include setting your washing machine to wash at 30°C, using a bowl to wash up rather than leaving the hot tap running and boiling the right amount rather than filling up a kettle.For more tips and advice visit energysavingtrust.org.uk
CHANGING SUPPLIER: According to consumer advice group Consumer Focus, changing energy supplier can be one of the easiest ways to save money on your gas and electricity bills. However, with so many different deals out there it can be difficult to find the best one. You can: s visit the website of the supplier you would like to switch to or phone them to find out about their tariffs use an internet comparison site
- Or you may be approached by an energy supplier’s sales person on your doorstep s Consumer Focus publishes independent price factsheets to help you see what prices the major energy companies charge. They are in the price comparison section of its website or phone Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 to request copies.
- You may be also be able to get a cheaper energy tariff from your current supplier so it is worth contacting them.
- Warm home dsicount scheme Residents can apply for a one-off £135 discount on electricity bills through the Government’s Warm Home Discount Scheme. The cash is taken off bills and letters were sent between September and this month to people who qualify.
- The payouts do not affect cold weather payments or winter fuel payments.
- You qualify for the discount if on the ‘qualifying day’ (July 20, 2013) your supplier was part of the scheme, your name (or your partner’s) was on the bill and you were either:
- 75 or over and getting the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit (even if you get Savings Credit) s Under 75 and only getting the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit (you won’t qualify if you also get Savings Credit)
- If you don’t qualify, some energy suppliers offer the discount to vulnerable people ( those on a low income).
- Each supplier has its own rules about who else can get this help.
- Check with the supplier if you meet their criteria and how to apply for the discount.
- Apply by March 14 at gov.uk/ the-warm-home-discount-scheme
Case study: Stephanie Ballard and family
FULL-TIME mum-of-three Stephanie Ballard usually pays about £155 a month for gas and electricity, but this can go up to £190 over the winter.
Mrs Ballard, who lives with husband Barry, 28, and children Max, eight, Josh, six, and Lacey, three in Rose Hill, is with Southern Electric.
Apart from the rent, their energy bills are the biggest outgoing.
She said: “It does cost us a fortune anyway. We are worried about how much it would increase by.
“I know that the washing machine and tumble drier are the most expensive appliances.
“We are on this tariff that says if you use an appliance after 7pm it is cheaper.
“But my children are in bed. I don’t want to be going round doing the hoovering and washing then.”
She added: “Two of my children get quite poorly in the winter. We have to have a heated house.”
Mrs Ballard, who is 24, says her central heating is controlled on a timer by Economy 7 to provide cheap off-peak electricity.
Her husband Barry is an assistant caretaker at Rose Hill Primary School.
The family lives in private rented accommodation and pays about £95 a month for gas and £60 a month for electricity.