Alan Titchmarsh Show

Energy bills – act now to save next winter

48526_6952Households are facing energy bills averaging at around £1,300 a year, meaning that it is all the more important to save as much as you can, where you can. With research alerting us to the cost of faulty energy meters and no discount on the horizon, now is the time to act to maximise savings for the coming 12 months.

According to recent research by Which?, the 3.9 million households that are on ‘time-of-use’ tariffs across Britain may have paid too much if their meter clocks were faulty.  Time-of-use tariffs offer customers a lower rate of electricity during some hours and a higher rate for others.

One man who contacted Which? saved himself and three neighbours more than £2,300 after discovering their meter clocks were wrong by several hours, meaning they were charged the higher rate for their electricity at times when they should have been charged the lower rate.

When the clocks change (like they will do on 30  March 2014) users should check that their meters have changed from GMT to British Summer Time.

If you believe you have been paying over what you would expect to, whilst making efforts to keep your spending to a minimum, you should contact your energy supplier.  Ofgem, the energy regulator, has said that they expect suppliers to be clear with customers about switch over meters and conformed that suppliers are required to investigate and make best efforts to resolve any problem.

As a final option, the supplier will make arrangements for the meter to be verified by a meter examiner appointed by The National Measurement Office.  If still not satisfied, or this option is not offered,  you can ask the Energy Ombudsman to investigate. They may be able to compel the supplier to correct the problem, explain what happened and make a financial award.

Ways to pay

Direct debit is one of the quickest and easiest ways to pay energy bills with over 50% of customers paying this way, often because suppliers offer discounts where payment can be guaranteed.

As of last month (February 2014), a number of energy companies have changed their direct debit refund policies, meaning that those who pay by direct debit will now get any overpayments back each year on the anniversary of when they signed up, or when they switch tariff. Previously, some firms only automatically gave refunds if customers were in credit by £100 or more, making it difficult to access that credit or get it back.

Your direct debit payments will be reviewed every six months, and you’ll be asked to provide up-to-date meter readings to ensure that you don’t build up a big credit or debit balance on your account.

If you change supplier or cancel a contract for any other reason, ensure that you recover any credit that is being held.  Ofgem have released findings that overpayments of at least £202m from domestic customers and £204m from former non-domestic customers has been retained by energy companies rather than being handed back to consumers on leaving.

Go Green

Although there is upfront cost, consider ways to save by investing in new green technology.  For example, if you install solar panels, or any other kind of renewable energy, you can potentially get paid a ‘feed-in tariff’, or a payment, for the energy produced, even if you use it yourself.  So when it is sunny, you may save on your electricity, and then get paid by the energy company for any surplus that can be given to the National Grid.  

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a typical 4kWp solar power system can knock £125 off a household’s bills each year, depending on the system size, electricity use, and a number of other factors.  In addition, every now and then, the Government lowers the amount offered for installing these renewable energy sources, so it is worth checking if any incentives are being offered.

As to whether the initial expense warrants the potential savings to be made, well, it depends. What works for one property might not work as well for another.  That said, there are a lot of options in the marketplace for every time of household and budget.

For further information, see what we discussed about fuel poverty in Autumn 2013, much of which still applies today.

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