The April showers have lashed the land, daffodils are whitling in vases across the UK and the long Winter nights are fading in to the past.
I’ve written a lot about ‘Awful April’ and the price rises that are challenging us all during the cost-of-living crisis. I hope my money saving tips have helped you save a packet so far (check out the old columns online).
However this week let’s have an energy recap. Here’s my guide to where we are at and what the future holds.
Are energy bills capped at the moment?
Yes, is the simple answer. But your bills will have gone up significantly. This is because the Government’s Energy Support Scheme (EBSS) – £400 of credits paid from October 2022 to March 2023 – has come to an end. So for people paying by direct debit, you’ll have seen your bill jump as the credit has ended. My bill has rocketed to £130 a month, for example.
However, the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee (EPG), which was due to go up to £3,000 in April, has been frozen at £2,500. This means bills will be limited to an average of £2,500 a year. This was a last-minute Government change that campaigners like me and Martin Lewis had been fighting for, because the wholesale price of energy is expected to drop from July.
What about benefit schemes?
Firstly, lots of vouchers for people on pre-payment meters have not been claimed (expiring 30 June 2023) so if you are affected, contact your electricity supplier to find out what’s going on and if you can still get the discounts.
While the Government has stopped its energy support scheme for everyone, there are still discounts available for next Winter for older people or those who are more vulnerable. In addition, the Government’s new Cost-of-Living Payment is available for people on certain benefits. These are payments of £301, £300 and £299 paid over the coming financial year at different points with the first due late April to early May. Find out more here.
What if I can’t afford my bills but aren’t on benefits?
By far the most common question I am asked is how to make ends meet from people who are just struggling to cope with expensive bills. Firstly, if the bottom line is tight after you’ve paid out all your bills, then you may meet the definition of ‘financial difficulties’ which means the energy firm should come up with options for you to help to tide you over.
For everyone else, we are approaching the time where the heating can go off. But even if it’s too cold to do so, knock your thermostat down a notch as it’s the best way to reduce your bills. You might also want to use the ‘wet’ machines in your kitchen less. These are anything where water has to be heated or used to dry things, like dishwashers, washing machines and driers.
What if my bill is wrong?
Now is the time to take regular readings of your meters and give them to your energy providers. If they’ve been relying on estimates, this should flush out any problems. But to my immense frustration, there are literally millions of errors with energy bills every year.
Bills are hard to translate in to English, but look for things like estimated readings, even when you’ve given proper readings, unlikely energy consumption and bills covering periods older that 12 months (back billing). You can dispute all of these things – and the Energy Ombudsman can help for free too.
If prices drop, do I fix?
Fixing is where you agree to a set price for energy for a set period of time. Energy is expected to drop in price significantly in the coming year so don’t jump for the first deal. Always ask how long you are ‘locked in’ for and what exit fees might apply to leave early. I’d be cautious for now – because we can expect switching deals to return later in the year.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.