With energy prices due to increase this winter and the cost-of-living crisis generally getting worse here’s my top ten tips to help with the pinch:
- Check you are receiving all the benefits and help you are entitled to
HMRC has this week started to pay out the first of two cost of living payments to those who claim tax credits. The Cost-of-Living Payment is a £650 payment that is paid to those on eligible benefits and is paid across two instalments of £326 and £324. You will be eligible for the payment if you were in receipt of any of the following benefits between 26th April 2022 and 25th May 2022: Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Pension Credit and/or Universal Credit.
If you successfully claimed any of the following benefits before 25th May 2022, you could also be eligible for an extra £150, which will be paid from 20th September 2022: Adult Disability Payment (in Scotland), Armed Forces Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Child Disability Payment (in Scotland), Constant Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance for adults, Disability Living Allowance for children, Personal Independence Payment and/or War Pension Mobility Supplement.
In addition, you may also be eligible for various other support packages, including: £400 discount from the UK Government to help with the cost of energy bills from October onwards and/or £300 Pensioner Cost of Living Payment that will be paid alongside Winter Fuel Payments. You can check all that you are entitled to on the UK Government’s help for households on GOV.UK.
- Check you are on the cheapest energy tariff
Cheap tariffs are non-existent at present but most suppliers are saying you get a better deal if you pay by direct debit. This is therefore worth exploring.
- Check you are not being overcharged for your energy
Lots of consumers have complained that energy providers have taken too much money through their direct debits since the price cap increased by 54% in April. If you are on a capped tariff and your direct debit has gone up by more than 54%, you may have been overcharged. To check this, take a meter reading and send it to your energy provider and ask for your bill to be checked against the actual reading and keep on doing this on a regular basis.
If you have been overcharged, your provider will give you credit which can be deducted from future bill payments. In these circumstances you could also ask your provider to lower your monthly direct debit on the basis that a lower amount will cover your usage.
- Do you have a variable mortgage?
You may want to lock into a fixed-rate mortgage now so that you are insulated from further rate increases – at least for the short term.
- Sign up for a 0% credit card
I’m aways telling you that by purchasing goods where the price is greater than £100, you receive the protection of Section 75 if something goes wrong. Credit cards can also provide a way to borrow money cheaply for purchases and to spread the repayments over time at a rate that is affordable to you.
If you search the market you will find 0% deals where you will pay no interest for a period of time. You can therefore also use this to pay off an existing card, which will lower your monthly outgoings as the interest element of what you owe will disappear from future payments whilst you are still in the 0% period.
- Ask for help
If you have a mortgage, ask your provider what help they can offer you. By way of example, energy provider Ovo has this week announced a £50m support package to help its vulnerable customers, which will include payment holidays, and it is likely that other suppliers will follow this.
- Check your bank statements
Lots of us set up direct debits and continuous payment authorities on our debit cards for the likes of gym memberships and subscriptions. However, for many, when they stop using such services, they forget to cancel the monthly payments. A quick check of your bank statement each month will reveal payments that should have been stopped. I tell consumers to do this every year and I am always overwhelmed by the huge numbers who get in contact to thank me for it after they discovered payments they should have stopped.
- Check your subscriptions/memberships
There is an obvious saving by cancelling any subscriptions or memberships you do not use. But it is also worth haggling for a better deal as service providers, such as gyms, pay-for TV services (Netflix, Sky TV etc.) are also feeling the pinch of the cost of living crisis and do not want to lose customers. They will therefore be open to providing a better deal, or temporary discount, in return for keeping your custom, so don’t be afraid to haggle to lower your monthly outgoings.
- Find free and cheap deals
The internet is full of great tools to help you save money. By way of example, www.petrolprices.com helps you locate the cheapest petrol stations near to where you live, which can represent a significant saving, given current fuel prices.
www.olioex.com is a fantastic service where households and hospitality businesses offer unused food to people in need in their local community rather than binning it. To take advantage you simply sign up and choose the food you would like from a list.
There are many more websites and apps like these that will provide help and assistance during these hard times.
- Check your council tax
In April this year, 80 per cent of households in tax bands A to D became entitled to a £150 rebate from their local council; many consumers have told me they have not received this. If you were eligible but did not receive the payment, get on to your local council now.
It is also worth checking your council tax banding. Due to the way properties were valued when the council tax system was launched in 1991, it has been reported that in excess of 400,000 homes are in the wrong council tax band. If this applies to your property, you could be owed thousands.