When the cold weather begins to set in, it’s perfectly normal to to start using more energy to heat your home, boil the kettle, and anything else you need to keep you warm. But as the months go by, the cost of your energy bills can soon stack up, meaning you fall into debt with your supplier, and may even find yourself facing fuel poverty.
Fuel Direct is a government scheme enabling you pay off energy debt directly from any benefits you receive and help avoid further debt or fuel poverty.
The scheme operates as a budget planner of sorts, allowing you to begin to pay off any energy debt at a reasonable and easy-to-manage rate, and help to reduce the stress of your situation.
You can apply Fuel Direct on the following benefits:
There are a few stages to the Fuel Direct process. Firstly, you need to contact either the Job Centre or the Pension Centre with all the details relating to the debt you owe. They will then contact the supplier to arrange the scheme on your behalf.
If your energy company agrees, around £3.70 will be taken out of your benefits each week until the debt is paid, and you will pay an additional amount to cover the energy you are currently using, to take away the possibility of you falling into arrears again. It is one of the most sensible payment options available.
If you claim Universal Credit, the fee is a little different - 5% of your total benefit will be taken each week until the debt is paid off.
If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, there are other forms of help available, such as the Winter Fuel Payment and Warm Home Discount - two plans aimed at helping maintain a reasonable standard of living during hard times.
Warm Home Discount offers a reduction of up to £140 on your energy bills, if you’re a low-income household or claiming your pension. This money isn’t paid directly to you, but comes off your energy bill directly between September and March.
Winter Fuel Payment is a scheme that should automatically add between £100 and £300 on to your pension payment. If you aren’t already receiving this payment you will need to process an application. To do this, visit GOV.UK to find out more.
Keeping energy costs down doesn’t have to be hard work, you just need to know the best ways to go about it.
The simplest way to cut your energy costs is to make sure you’re on the right tariff. If you’ve never switched, or not switched in the last year or so, you’ll most likely be on your suppliers’ standard tariff, which is the default energy plan you’re placed on when a fixed-rate deal ends. To compare gas and electricity rates, pop your postcode in the box at the top of page or give our energy experts a call on 0800 320 2000.
Then you just need to make a couple of simple changes to your routine, like switching off all appliances at the wall, instead of putting them in standby - 8% of British energy costs come from equipment not being turned off properly, so simply switching off can add up to significant savings.
And consider things like turning the heating down by a degree or two, only use washing machines and dishwashers when there’s a full load, and try to avoid using tumble dryers wherever possible.
If you have an Economy 7 or Economy 10 electricity meter, make sure you only use appliances during those times of day that offer a discounted rate.
It’s also worth fitting loft or cavity wall insulation, which can drastically reduce the amount of heat that escapes from your home, and mean you need to use less energy to keep your home warm. Although there is an initial cost involved, there is financial help available for energy efficiency improvements, and you’ll benefit from lower energy bills in the long term.