Is it worth the hassle of switching my gas and electricity suppliers as I seem to be paying a lot for my energy these days?
The first point to make is that it is not a big hassle switching utilities companies these days, as the switching companies take the sting out of the administration involved. You should not have to wait more than 28 days for the switch to happen. As to the savings you can make, if you are still with your long-term suppliers you could almost halve your bills by switching to the cheapest company in your area, according to consumer group Energywatch. The message is – shop around for the cheapest supplier.
Who are the switching companies?
There are lots of companies that will help you switch utilities suppliers, including uSwitch, Switchwithwhich and energyhelpline.com, to name just three. Many of them are owned by bigger companies – SimplySwitch.com, for example, is owned by the publishers of the Daily Mail. They are all available on the Internet, so get surfing.
If I switch energy companies, is there anything to watch out for before I do it and what do I need to know?
Yes, you must make sure that your bills are accurate and not marked with an ‘E’, which means ‘Estimate’. When you switch ask if you will be tied into a contract; whether or not you can have a prepayment meter if you want one; how often you will be billed; are there any additional charges to be paid and is there a discount for paying by direct debit? Satisfy yourself that all the elements you want in your deal will be provided – and off you go.
Is it possible to fix the price of my energy?
Most of the energy companies have been offering fixed prices, or deals where the price of your supply is capped, and where the level of cost is guaranteed. The rates might have been, say, 20% higher, but at least you had certainty in your budgeting. However, at a time when the price of gas, for example, is actually coming down this may not be the best kind of deal for you at the moment.
Is there any other way of saving money on my energy costs?
Everyone can save energy and the Energy Saving Trust reckons that many homeowners could slash £300 a year off their bills by becoming more energy-efficient. Almost 60% of your heat is lost through your walls and roof, for example, and insulation will cut down dramatically on this waste. Also, you should consider upgrading the hardware that heats your home. Modern condensing boilers can cut heating bills by a third and fitting a jacket to your hot water tank will help save money. Finally, why not switch your TV off at night? A third of people admit to leaving them on standby and doing this wastes a phenomenal amount of energy and hence money.
Is there any help available to make the necessary changes to my home so that it is more energy-efficient?
Yes, grants are available for installing loft and cavity wall insulation, draught proofing, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and new boilers. The level of assistance varies from area to area and your own financial situation. Your energy supplier will probably have such a scheme as well. British Gas has signed up local authorities around the country to offer rebates from council tax of up to £100 if you put in cavity wall insulation. Check with your council to see what help is available.
What is broadband and how much will I have to pay for it?
Without getting too technical, broadband is a fast, permanent Internet connection that works up to 500 times faster than the traditional dial-up account – so basically it is a service where speed is of the essence. More and more people are hooking up to the service and there is a choice of over 250 providers – which means you should not have a problem selecting a service that has all the features you want. And, like energy suppliers, you can always switch your broadband supplier to save money.
Are there any catches to broadband services?
There have been recent, well-documented cases where people have waited ages for their ordered broadband service to be connected and when it does finally arrive it leaves a lot to be desired. Because of the intense competition in the market you will often be tempted with incredibly cheap offers but, as ever when you purchase something – buyer beware! Many headline rates look superb, but try to read the small print as often there will be the potential for your bills to rise steeply, especially in areas like calling technical help lines and so on.
What is the best telephone company to use?
This is like asking: ‘how long is a piece of string?’ There are literally hundreds of phone companies offering all sorts of deals, and many levels of tariffs, and a lot of them, like market leaders Orange, Sky and BT, are offering combined TV, broadband and telephone services. This is one area where you need to do your homework and compare prices carefully, although the intense competition in the market means you should be able to get a good deal with all the features you need.
Are ‘combination deals’ the best way to sort out my communications needs?
By combination deals you presumably mean a combined TV, broadband Internet connection and landline telephone service. In February 2007, Virgin launched such a service, with the basic TV package – offering up to 129 channels – costing about £20, with the option to get all of the facilities for a total of around £85. With Sky, BT and Tiscali also offering ‘all-in-one’ telecoms packages the way we watch TV – and communicate with others, is fast being revolutionised. However, before you select your package, do your homework carefully and scan the small print to confirm that what you see on the glossy advertising is really what you will get.