Finally, March is here, the days are getting lighter and we might be able to turn the heating off soon!
There are lots of reasons to be cheerful right now, but first we have to get through ‘Awful April’.
What’s so awful about April? Well the new financial year is traditionally the point where bills go up – and this year, thanks to a combination of inflation, higher costs and energy prices, the rises are higher than usual.
However, there are things you can do about higher bills to cut your costs. Here’s my guide:
Broadband and mobile phone contracts
I’m starting to hear reports that the main mobile phone service providers are planning big price increases from April 2023. MoneySavingExpert has just released research indicating some providers are hiking prices by over 14%.
In addition, broadband providers are also intending to introduce mid-contract hikes of between 14% and 17%. That’s inflation plus at least 4%.
The good news is millions of us can vote with our feet. Ofcom estimates that 7.4 million people were ‘out of contract’ in 2021. This means that your deal with the firm has expired, leaving you free to go to another provider. Or alternatively you can negotiate with your existing provider to get a better deal.
I’ve previously written in the Mirror about how I reduced my £96 a month broadband and TV package by over half by going to a competitor (and the service is better). On top of that, if you are in receipt of certain benefits you can apply for one on the new ‘social tariffs’ that will take your payments down as low as £20 a month if you don’t mind taking a basic package.
If you are stuck mid-contract, you’ll need to get a bit more creative. However, I have a guide in the Mirror covering the things you can do to bail early here.
Of course, some bills we are stuck with, whether we like it or not. But all is not necessarily lost.
If your council tax bill is too high, then my top tip is so simple you won’t believe it hasn’t occurred to you before. Council tax is usually billed over ten months, with two free months at the end of the term. However, if money is tight, why not ask the council to spread the money over 12 months instead? If you’re paying £1,400 a year, then over ten months you pay £140 a month. But over 12, you pay £116.66 which saves you £20 a month. That’s a sixth off in real terms each month.
Make sure you are claiming your discounts too. If you live alone then you can get a 25% discount on your bill. If you don’t have the discount on your bill then tell them today. If someone moves out then you’re allowed to apply for the discount from the day they went too. There’s also a term I hate – disregarded – that sounds so dismissive, but covers who doesn’t have to pay or be ‘counted’ when it comes to council tax. Are you on the list? Find out more here.
Finally, if your home has been placed in the wrong band, if you moved when you were in credit with your payments or if you’d just been overcharged, then you can ask for the money back. It’s not always easy to figure this out though, so pop on to the website of the councils where you lived and have a look at the reclaiming rules if you think you’ve been billed incorrectly.
Speaking of bills we are stuck with, we can’t jump ship with water companies either. Though on average, water bills aren’t going up as much as inflation, the increase is still 7.5% – way more than what your pay or pension rise might have been. And in some parts of the UK, prices are much higher. But you can still save cash on your bills.
Water meters are one way you could actually save you some money. The way that water bills are estimated is based on the ‘rateable’ value of the property in most parts of the UK (young people; ask your parents about rates). What this means is the size or value of your property affects how your bill is estimated. So if you have a big house but only you live in it, then a meter may save you hundreds. If you’ve got a big family, a garden and the washing machine is always going, you could pay more.
In addition, you may be entitled to compensation automatically if your water supply is interrupted. Under regulator Ofwat’s guaranteed standards scheme, water companies must ensure that water pressure is right, appointments to fix issues are kept and ultimately deal with supply interruptions. Don’t assume you’ll get the cash automatically though. Check with your water provider to see if they have credited you.
Oh, and claim your freebies. Water companies offer some nifty gadgets to help you with your water consumption. These include shower nozzles that help reduce flow (the same for taps and hoses too). I know this might seem like you’ll have a rubbish shower, but trust me, they are surprisingly effective. Type ‘water saving’ into your water provider’s website.
Insurance and subscriptions
Every year, you have a month-long window of opportunity to change insurance companies because they must give you four weeks’ notice that your current policy is due to expire. But rather than wait for the letter, check with the insurance company and pop the date in your diary a month earlier so you’ve got time to shop around and save. You can use apps like Little Birdie to do this for you if you can’t face trawling through the bank account statements!
I’ve written a lot lately about saving money by cancelling subscriptions lurking on your account. In short, go through your accounts and cancel anything you don’t need through your bank or card provider – and claim back anything you haven’t authorised.
I’ve written a lot about energy, unsurprisingly, over the last few months. Here are a few of my Mirror guides:
Most importantly, remember that if you are in financial difficulties with your energy bill, Ofgem’s regulations say the energy firm should come up with a tailored plan to meet your needs. You can read what businesses are supposed to do on regulator Ofgem’s website here.
Ofgem says that you can ask for the following:
- A review of your payments and debt repayments
- Payment breaks or reductions
- More time to pay
- Access to hardship funds
- Advice on how to use less energy
The option to go on the Priority Services Register – a free support service for a wide range of people struggling or who need support.
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James