Winter isn’t good for your wallet. Whether it’s a crisp sunny day, or you’re knee deep in snow, the added chills mean bigger bills. Sadly, neither the weather nor the cost are likely to improve any time soon, yet that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Work your way through my winter checklist to help save yourself £100s.
1. Myth-busting – is it cheaper to leave the heating on all day?
Is it worth just heating when you’re in, or keeping the central heating on all day at a lower level? In pubs and cafes across the land people debate this (or maybe they just ask me when I go in). The answer, according to the Energy Saving Trust, is turn the heating on when you need it – don’t unnecessarily leave the heat on – you’ll pay more.
While we’re at it, there’s little point painting your radiators black. Try to keep the doors to rooms you’re heating closed, plus drying your clothes in an airing cupboard is cheaper than a tumble dryer (though watch out for damp).
2. It’s the PERFECT time to switch – lock in no price hikes for TWO winters
All the big six energy companies have now announced price hikes, and even though the last, Eon’s, doesn’t hit until 18 January, the price comparison sites are updated with the new prices. That means now’s the perfect time to switch, for if you do a comparison, it’s a level playing field.
To switch, get yourself on a Consumer Focus-approved comparison site, like MoneySupermarket, uSwitch or Energyhelpline. Better still, if you go to exactly the same sites via www.moneysavingexpert.com/energy, you can get up to £30 cashback or a crate of wine if they can switch you – you don’t get that going direct.
When doing a comparison, one tariff to watch out for is the new EDF June 2014 fix. It isn’t the very cheapest deal, so won’t come top. But its big boon is the rate you pay is fixed until June 2014 – meaning no price hikes guaranteed. Plus it has no early exit fees, so you’re free to leave if other prices drop. Those on standard tariffs paying a typical £1,400 a year would pay just £1,180 on this.
3. Can you find your stopcock?
Winter frozen pipe bursts can create an average £10,000 worth of damage. This is often worsened as many scrabble round searching for their stopcock (the mains water off tap) for ages as their home floods. Don’t wait for an emergency – check it out now. Commonly, they’re under the kitchen sink, in cupboards, near the bathroom – plus there’s usually another one out in the street.
Once you’ve found it, make sure everyone in the house knows where it is, and make sure you turn it on and off a couple of times a year to reduce the chance of it seizing up.
4. On a prepay (key or card) energy meter?
You can still switch and save. Prepaid comparisons are possible at Energyhelpline, MoneySupermarket and uSwitch, with £200 a year savings for some. Better still, check if you can move off prepay to a normal billed meter, which is likely to be far cheaper with more competitive tariffs. Full help at www.moneysavingexpert.com/prepaidenergy
5. Are you due winter fuel / cold weather payments?
If anyone in your home was born before 6 July 1951, you’re due up to £300 in tax-free winter fuel payments. If you’ve received a winter fuel payment in a previous year, you don’t need to do anything. If you’ve never had it before, you may need to register. You can do this by filling out the claims forms at gov.uk/winter-fuel-payment or calling 08459 15 15 15.
There’s also a cold weather payment available for those on pension credit and some on income support or jobseekers’ allowance. You get £25 for every seven days the temperature is below 0°C for this. You don’t need to apply. If you’re eligible, you’ll be paid automatically within 14 working days.
6. Slash £100 a year off boiler cover costs. Don’t mistakenly think you need to stick with your energy provider’s boiler cover – there may be a lot cheaper out there. uSwitch.com has a comparison which can help you cut costs. It misses a few (full list in www.moneysavingexpert.com/boiler), but it’s still worth checking.
7. Got a car? Do you need breakdown assistance? The consequences of winter breakdowns are much worse than the rest of the year, but modern cars are pretty reliable. So it’s a gamble whether it’s needed or not. However , you can get basic AA or RAC cover for as little as £12 a year, often worth it for added peace of mind. To do this, simply arrange the cover via a cashback website like Topcashback or Quidco.
8. Free £300 insulation for those on certain benefits
While most big providers have now closed schemes, a few are still offering free loft and cavity wall insulation worth up to £300 to those certain benefits. You also need a suitable home. Go to mse.me/insulate
9. Don’t walk around in your boxers/knickers
It’s amazing how many sit at home barely dressed, then ratchet up the thermostat. Change your instincts. If it’s cold, chuck on a jumper. Adding one degree can cost £60 a year. Old-fashioned solutions like sausage-dog draft excluders and homemade window quilts really can slash bills.
10. Don’t pay energy bills the wrong way
Paying by MONTHLY direct debit (not quarterly, be careful) is 5%-10% cheaper, but your monthly bills are estimated. Make sure you do regular meter readings to keep them accurate. Overpay and you can ask for the excess back. This doesn’t work for prepay customers.
Online Store Discount Finder
Many drive miles to outlet villages to snap up end-of-line bargains. Yet now big names including M&S, Net-A-Porter and Argos, have online outlet stores. My new Online Outlet Stores Discount Finder tool searches 30+ outlets for huge discounts on clothes, furniture and toys. Try it at mse.me/outlets
Urgent! £6.99/month line rental
BT’s standard line rental alone rises to £15.45/month in Jan. Yet already the market’s cheapest, until the end of Jan, Primus is reduced to £6.99/month (from £7.99) fixed for a 12-month contract. If you want evening and weekend calls included, its Home Phone Saver is down to £8.49/month. Full info and best-buys if you want broadband at www.mse.me/homephone