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Coronavirus: Advice on energy bills

03/04/2020

Due to the ongoing lockdown and government advice, we’re all doing our bit to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives. With the increased time spent indoors, inevitably, many of us will be facing increased energy bills.

In fact, according to research by comparison site uSwitch, those of us who are now working from home will use 25% more electricity and 17% more gas per day, as around 16.8 million people in the UK make the switch. Annually, that could all add up to around £195 per household.

And those households that don’t have home workers may face a surge in energy bills due to children being home throughout the day, or the need to self-isolate or shield at home.

So what help is available, how can you reduce your spend, and what steps can we all take to save a little (or a lot) on keeping the lights on?

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I can’t pay my energy bills – what should I do?

On 17 March 2020, the government announced its emergency measures to make sure vulnerable energy customers would still be supplied with energy during the coronavirus outbreak and protected from losing power.

Furthermore, all energy suppliers have promised to support any customers facing financial difficulty and struggling to pay their energy bills.

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma said: “The government has committed to do whatever it takes to get our nation through the impacts of this coronavirus pandemic. Today those most in need can rest assured that a secure supply of energy will continue to flow into their homes during this difficult time.”

If you are struggling, the key thing to remember is that you won’t be cut off. Many of the UK’s top energy firms have introduced extra measures to help and are open to assessing customer needs on a case-by-case basis. Here are just a few things your energy provider might offer if you’re struggling:

  • Suspended late payment charges
  • Extending the payment period
  • Delaying the date your bill is due

Although many companies are facing high call volumes, the best course of action is to check with your provider and make contact as soon as you can. For now, getting in contact via their website could be the quickest option.

What if I have a prepayment meter?

Those who have prepayment meters may be worrying about having to head outdoors to top up. However, if you have to self-isolate, there are other options. Energy companies are working closely with industry regulator Ofgem to offer support to vulnerable prepayment customers. If you’re worried you won’t be able to top up your meter, your energy provider may:

  • Recommend you ask a friend or family member for help topping up
  • Offer to send out a pre-paid card if you run out of energy
  • Assess your situation on a case-by-case basis.

There’s no consensus yet on measures, so your first port of call should be your energy provider’s website, where you can find out their policy on prepayment.

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How do I cut my energy bills during the coronavirus outbreak?

Industry regulator Ofgem recommends comparing and switching your energy provider regularly to get the best possible tariff, estimating that most households can save around £300 per year by making the switch.

If you haven’t assessed your energy tariff recently, now is a sensible time to check if you could save money, especially if you’re facing the months ahead at home. There are several Ofgem-accredited online services that you can use to compare energy costs and tariffs, including Uswitch and The Energy Shop. Making the switch could take as little as ten minutes of your day if you do so online.

And it may be easier than you think change provider because unlike some services, you won’t need a technician or engineer to visit your property unless you’ve decided to change your meter.

I’m working from home – can I claim for utility bills?

If you’ve been asked by your employer to work from home due to coronavirus, you may be able to claim a flat rate of £4 per week towards your utility bills. And from April 6, this figure will increase to £6 per week.

You can either claim this by discussing it with your employer directly, or, if you usually complete a self-assessment, declaring it on your tax return.

When claiming, it’s important to remember that you can only claim for utilities you used for your work, for example, the cost of heating or lighting the room that you work in.

And while you might be tempted to claim for expenses like your home broadband or mobile phone contract, this won’t be viable, as your household will be using these anyway.

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How do I reduce my home energy costs?

In the short term, there are some other, simple measures you can take to make sure that you and your family are saving money on your energy at this time that every penny counts, including:

  • Taking regular energy meter readings – The more often you supply your provider with an accurate reading, the less likely you’ll be overcharged on your bill.
  • Switching your light bulbs – LED bulbs use 80% less energy than regular lightbulbs.
  • Washing at 30 degrees – Turn down the dial on your washing machine from 40 to 30.
  • Turning off your appliances ­– The average household uses 13 appliances, so homeowners can make easy savings by turning laptops, TVs and computers completely off after using them.
  • Conserving gas ­– Turning the radiators off, the thermostat down and shorter showers can all help!

If the bills are stacking up and you’re not sure where to turn, know that help is at hand. Save yourself the energy of worrying about debt; speak to one of our professional debt experts today on 0808 253 3282 to find out more.

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