Dealing with soaring energy bills as winter sets in

Our campaign aims to help tackle fuel poverty in our communities this winter

Our There With You This Winter campaign offers advice and support throughout the cold months. - Credit: PA

The rise in the energy price cap in October pushed gas and electricity bills higher just as thousands of households in the St Albans district lost £20 a week through the cut in Universal Credit.

"This means it will be a tough winter, financially, for many local people”, warns June Chapman, chief executive of Citizens Advice St Albans District.

Citizens Advice has been helping people to find solutions for their problems for over 70 years. It is a network of independent charities that are at the heart of their local communities. Its trained staff and volunteers offer free advice that is confidential and impartial and they do so over the phone, online and in person

They aim to give people the knowledge and the confidence they need to overcome their problems. Anyone can access their service and in a typical year Citizens Advice helps over 9,000 people in St Albans.

June said: “This winter we are expecting an influx of people who need help because increases in the cost of essentials, in particular energy and food prices, are putting further pressure on already stretched budgets. Our data are already showing early warning signs, with more people seeking advice on debt issues and telling us that they are increasingly unable to cover their daily living costs.”

Some of the hardest hit households are those whose energy companies have ceased trading. Although the regulator, Ofgem, ensures that they are switched to a new provider and that there is no interruption to their energy supplies, many will find that they have been moved from the old company’s fixed rate tariff to a new company’s standard variable rate, resulting in a substantial increase in the price they pay for their gas and electricity.

June explained: “Normally, we would suggest the main way that someone could reduce their energy bills would be to switch to a better deal. But the situation is difficult at the moment and there aren’t a lot of good deals out there.”

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However, there are still other ways that families can keep their energy bills down. Little everyday things can help, like making sure televisions and other electronic devices are switched off and not left on standby and washing clothes on a lower temperature.

Turning down your main thermostat by one degree can save around £60 on the average household’s energy bill. And by spending one minute less in the shower every day, a family of four could save £75 a year on energy and water bills.

There is also some financial support available for people in serious financial difficulties. For example, pensioners with a low income, or those receiving Universal Credit or another means-tested benefit, may be entitled to the Warm Home Discount, which provides £140 a year towards paying energy bills.

Citizens Advice St Albans District can help local people decide whether they are eligible for this support and to make an application. They can also help with other bills. People on low incomes may be able to cap their water bills and receive a discount on their sewerage bills, saving the average household £170 a year.

The Government also recently announced a £500 million fund to support households this winter, to be distributed through local authorities. Details of how this scheme will work have yet to be released, but when they are Citizens Advice’s staff and volunteers will ensure that they fully understand them and are able to help people apply, if they are eligible.

A soaring cost of living is going to push many families into financial hardship this winter. No one should have to face the problems this will bring without good quality, independent advice.

For more help with energy bills, or any other problem, contact Citizens Advice in St Albans on 01727 811118 or visit www.citizensadvicestalbans.org.uk.

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