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Sky-high bills: how to lessen the blow

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Household bills are showing no signs of falling but savvy consumers can take action to minimise the costs.

As the cost of everyday goods and services continue their seemingly never-ending ascent and wages stagnate, it feels as though we can’t go a day without hearing more bad news about the state of family finances.

It’s no surprise Brits are struggling when you consider that since 2004, the average household bill has rocketed from £522 a year to £1,353 a year today, according to the latest calculations by comparison site Yes, that’s an £831 increase in under a decade.

There’s more financial strain to come. From Easter Monday (1st April 2013), the average water bill will go up by 3.5%, pushing the average annual bill for water and sewerage to £388 up from £375 last year. This means households could now have to cough up a record £1,740 a year on water, sewerage and energy alone.

The ‘Big 6’ energy companies have all done their bit towards the onslaught on family purses, with all bar none increasing their energy deal prices this winter, some by as much as 10%.

Even households sitting comfortably on cheap-ish fixed price plans can’t sit tight. Three of the cheapest tariffs running on the current market are coming to an end soon, meaning they will need to look around for the next best deal. Some bills will see a £200 hike as the three plans – EDF Energy’s Fix to March 2013, npower’s Go Fix 10 and npower’s Go Fix 11, which cost £1,064 a year on average – come to a close.

So unless savvy consumers keep an eye out, they may potentially find themselves bundled on to a new price plan, which may not work out as the cheapest for their household’s needs.

Of course, the weather isn’t helping. This unseasonal cold-snap is further stamping a boot into the problem.

Experts suggest the past few days of freezing weather will costs the nation a collective £2.2bn, leaving most households cold and not just from the weather.

There’s no doubt about it, increasing energy prices are here to stay. Energy experts have said that consumers should expect a fresh round of price hikes before the year is over, while critics are pointing out that Ofgem, the energy regulator, is not making enough waves to look out for the man on the street.

As the pace of Government reforms in the energy industry are slow to start, consumers are potentially looking at a market that has little choice or competition for months or even years to come.

So with all this in mind, it can’t be stressed enough just how important it is households shop around and be in the know about changes that could affect their bills.

Price comparison sites may just be our best friend in the current climate. A few minutes spent looking through the deals could help you pocket a nice amount every year. Remember that the small print is small for a reason – so fine-comb through the early exit fees and the deal period and work out if the price after the deal period runs out actually is as cheap as it sounds.

And just a quick word of caution – energy suppliers are notorious for being very slow to refund you any monies owed you that they received in overpayments throughout the year.

A recent report from Which? highlighted that 56% of households believed they’d over-paid because they were on a direct debit scheme. However the companies in question were more than just slow to repay the amounts, with some people having to wait over a year to get their money back. Of course, this is despite these companies being very quick to put up their prices when they needed to.

While the outlook may seem gloomy, Your Money is dedicated to providing up-to-date information on ways to cut energy bills.

Check out our guides below for some must-read top tips:

Ten ways to reduce your energy bills

Water meters: the pros and cons

Can solar panels reduce your energy bills?

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