I read with horror over the weekend that a report commissioned by Centrica claims gas prices could soar by more than 60 per cent over the next two years. Aren’t we all paying enough already?! And how will the 1 in 5 UK households already struggling in fuel poverty cope?
So what great advice does the MD of Centrica, Jake Ulrich, have to impart? Wear two jumpers! OK, he may have a point. I’ve admit, I’ve been guilty in the past of turning up the thermostat instead of putting on a cardigan, although I’ve learnt my lesson. So Mr Ulrich’s advice might be appropriate for those accustomed to dancing around their houses in bikinis in December. But I doubt the pensioners who told me during my pension challenge earlier this year they could only afford to heat one room will be too impressed. Some charities have told Mr Ulrich in no uncertain terms what they think of his comments. I fear that ‘Two Jumpers’ may be the moniker he is forever known by now – reminiscent of John Prescott and his nickname Two Jags…
Both energy companies and the government through VAT are making a fortune out of the current high gas prices and charities, such as Age Concern, are trying to get them to work together to fight fuel poverty. The government wants to abolish fuel poverty by 2010, but the charity says this isn’t going to happen unless they revise their strategy and make providing social tariffs compulsory for energy companies. Currently it’s only voluntary and the poorest customers don’t always get the best deal. Not to mention the fact that many poorer customers on pre-payment meters are often charged the highest rate. A spokesman for Age Concern told me that if we see price hikes of 25 per cent then 1 in 3 pensioner households will be in fuel poverty. A shocking figure. The charity is also trying to get the government to raise the winter fuel allowance.
It’s so warm now that it’s hard to imagine what it will be like in the winter. But how can we combat rising gas prices, besides piling on the layers? Here are a few ideas.
1. Visit Uswitch.com. OK, so energy prices may rise, but it’s worth seeing if the current deal you’re getting is competitive. With Uswitch it’s easy, as long as you’ve got a current bill nearby, to tap in your details and see if there is better deal out there. Switching is reasonably pain free. If you’re not on the internet you can call them on 0800 404 7908.
2. Pay by direct debit. Most providers offer discounts for paying by direct debit – as well as paperless billing online – and it helps spread the cost. It is, however, unfair that people who don’t wish to pay by direct debit may be charged extra.
3. Is your loft properly insulated and do you have cavity wall? If not, around a third of your energy could be wasted. There are grants available for this from Warm Front, so get in touch with your energy provider/local council to find out if you qualify. Make sure your water tank is properly lagged too. Some energy providers provide insulation free to low income customers, so it’s worth checking.
4. Exclude draughts. Draw your curtains early in winter evenings to keep the heat in and put up thick ones to ensure draughts are kept out. Make sure they fit closely to the window. Look for cold spots in your home and consider having draught excluders fitted, such as brushes and flaps. It may seem old fashioned, but the old sausage dog ones work well put across any draughty bits under doors etc. And don’t be ashamed to use a hot water bottle to warm the bed either! Friends of the Earth also suggest fitting wooden shelves (not MDF) above radiators to direct heat downwards rather then let it escape through the ceiling.
5. Is your heating on a timer? If not, you could be wasting cash by heating the house when you’re not around. Friends of the Earth suggests timing it so it goes off 30 minutes before you leave home and comes on 30 minutes before you arrive back, if you are out all day. And, it may be reminiscent of Mr Ulrich’s comments, but think about turning the thermostat down a few degrees and making sure you’re wrapped up warmly. But don’t risk your health – many pensioners become ill each year because they scrimp on the heating and their immune systems suffer. Something which, frankly, is sickening in our society.
6. If you’re home during the day one option which many pensioners are forced to adopt is to heat only the room you’re in, and avoid heating the whole house or flat. But again, you must ensure you’re not letting your health suffer.
7. Save money on fuel by cooking more than one thing at once in your oven. For example, if you’re making a pizza, why not make two and cook them at the same time. Or make a cake and cook it in the oven too while you cook your dinner, so you get two meals from the same amount of energy.
8. Use a hob that is the right size for your pan and fit lids on top to save on heat. Use a steamer on top of the pan to cook vegetables. It’s healthy and helps save energy.
9. Take meter readings and check all your energy bills. You may find you are paying too much with estimated bills.
10. Are you a pensioner? Then make sure you claim the winter fuel allowance. Many pensioners don’t claim all their entitlements because of the bureaucracy or because they feel uncomfortable taking handouts, but you’ve worked hard for them! Contact Age Concern or Help the Aged for help with the forms.
11. If you are struggling with your heating bills don’t suffer in silence. Contact your supplier and tell them of your difficulties. Also contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau if you wish to speak to a third party or the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99. Here is a great link from the BBC with information on finding help with your bills and grants available.
12. Support Age Concern and Help the Aged’s campaign for a £50m energy rebate for pensioners this year from the energy companies. The charities want the UK’s six biggest fuel companies to work with the government to make social energy tariffs compulsory for energy companies. They also want the government to plough its bumper VAT revenue from higher energy prices into providing energy for people on low incomes. If you feel strongly about it, why not write to your MP or energy company?
Got any great ideas about how to save on your gas bill? Should energy companies and the government be doing more to help pensioners and other people struggling to pay their bills? Leave a message and enlighten me!