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Two million families struggling with heating bills

Cherry Reynard
Written By:
Cherry Reynard

More than two million working families are struggling to pay their energy bills, according to data from uSwitch.com.

A quarter of working families (24%) are anxious about how much of their disposable income is spent on their energy bills. For many it is a choice between feeding and clothing their family (26%) or affording Christmas presents (27%) if they turn on the heating.

Almost half of working families (46%) said they have struggled to pay their energy bills at some point, up from almost a third (32%) last year. Young families (with adults aged between 18-34) are most likely to have difficulties.

Concerns about paying energy bills are slightly higher among those who work in the private sector (56%) compared to public sector workers (50%), while people in Wales worry the most about increasing gas and electricity costs (50%).

To deal with the problem around four in 10 cut back on heating, with 7% saying they have even worn gloves and hats to bed. In general, women are more inclined to put the heating on if they’re cold. People in Yorkshire and the Humber are the hardiest and are least likely to put the heating on.

Heating bills have risen this year, with the average cost of a Standard Variable Tariff (SVT) up from £1,064 to £1,131. More than a quarter of working families (28%) said they are still languishing on these expensive SVTs.

Those who are struggling with their energy bills should first ensure they’re not paying too much for the energy they use and see how much they could save by switching supplier. Some suppliers are also offering free cavity wall and loft insulation, as well as grants towards new energy efficient boilers, which can help make homes more energy efficient and therefore cheaper to keep warm.

Alternatively, consumers can speak to Citizens Advice for guidance on managing bills, which might include eligibility for schemes designed to protect vulnerable households, such as the Warm Home Discount or Winter Fuel Payments.

Claire Osborne, energy expert at uSwitch.com, said: “With forecasters predicting the coldest winter in years, it’s really worrying to see so many working families struggling to pay their energy bills. Millions are having to sacrifice their health, or even forego food, clothes and Christmas presents to keep warm this winter. No one should have to choose between going cold or going hungry. By taking action now, families are more likely to be able to keep warm and avoid some very difficult choices.”

How to save money on your energy bills

uSwitch offers the following advice to help you save money on your energy bills this winter:

• Switch: by simply switching to a better deal you could save up to £491
• Government schemes: the government runs a number of schemes which provide a discount on household energy bills, dependent on a number of criteria such as the bill payers age, household income, and whether they are on certain benefits. More information can be found on the GOV.UK website
• Energy efficiency offers: several energy suppliers offer grants and advice to help make homes more energy efficient, meaning they are cheaper to keep warm. Some suppliers are even offering free insulation, dependent on the type of property
• Help with energy bills: Many energy suppliers also offer support to vulnerable customers in other ways. For example, E.On provides benefit entitlement checks and access to hardship funds for customers whom it identifies as potentially vulnerable. British Gas runs a programme to support customers with dementia and offers those requiring extra support the opportunity to join its Priority Services Register. Scottish Power runs a hardship fund to help customers who may have difficulties paying their bills. First Utility can arrange payment plans for customers who are struggling to make their payments and are not eligible for the Warm Home Discount and put them in contact with Step Change, a debt charity. Npower’s Macmillan Fund caps energy bills for customers living with cancer and struggling with their energy bills. Ovo runs a fund to help its customers who are behind on their energy payments and need help getting out of debt
• Read your meter: More than a fifth of households don’t submit regular energy meter readings to their supplier, risking inaccurate bills. Once they provided a reading, two thirds of Brits found they were owed £161 on average
• Bleed your radiators: this releases any gas caught inside them, making them run more efficiently.
• Switch off the tech: leaving televisions and games consoles on permanent standby costs £45-£80 a year and we waste nearly £29m per year in this country by leaving our phone chargers switched on even though we’re not charging our phones
• Turn it down: around 90% of a washing machines energy expenditure is spent on heating the water, so the lower the temperature, the more money you save.