As the nights get longer and it gets colder, many people are contacting me to say they are concerned about not being able to pay their bills.
Over the next few months, I’m going to do my best to provide you with all the help, information and tips you need to save you some cash over Autumn and Winter. But it’s vitally important that we all reach out to those people who might not know where to turn.
We often talk about helping people who are vulnerable. But what does this mean? We tend to focus (rightly) on disabled people, but disabled people, those experiencing mental health problems and younger people are among the many other groups who need help.
The latest research in Creditspring’s Financial Tracker Report shows that 2 million disabled people have sought help from debt advice charities over the last year. Meanwhile, a quarter of younger people are relying on credit to pay their bills.
So let’s take the time to speak to our friends, family and neighbours to see if we can make a difference. Here’s how you can help.
Last year, Ofcom estimated that 7.4 million people were ‘out of contract’. This means that you’ll be stuck on a ‘standard’ tariff’ that’s usually more expensive. It’s not unheard of for people to be paying upwards of £100 a month for their broadband and TV packages. You can save a fortune by switching. And even better, if you receive benefits, just say the words ‘social tariff’ and you may qualify for a deal as low as £10 to £20 a month.
Knowing how to get help is tricky if you find using technology hard. I’m dyslexic and despite doing this job for 20 years, I find the internet a frustrating place. So help a friend or neighbour find the right help/. All you need to do is type ‘financial difficulties’ followed by the name of a regulator in to the internet. For example, type ‘Ofgem financial difficulties’ and you’ll get a list of all the energy grants, Government and support available. Charities have some great advice pages. Type ‘Age UK benefits for older people’ and you’ll get a comprehensive list of all the benefits and support out there. And don’t forget to search ‘Citizens Advice bills’ which will pull up a page that is pretty much a one stop shop for help, advice and support across all sectors.
If you’ve got more money going out than coming in, or even if you don’t have enough left over to cover an emergency, you meet the definition of financial difficulties. That’s where the free debt charity StepChange can step in. I can’t tell you how fantastic StepChange is – but don’t take my word for it. StepChange will ask you to give some financial information and will set up a tailored plan, working out what you can afford to pay each month. They then contact all your creditors on your behalf. Don’t ever go to a business that charges for this or for things like IVAs or bankruptcy – StepChange is totally free.
Switching and cancelling
Switching energy bills is not really worth it at the moment, but you can still save loads of cash by moving to a new provider for other things like mobile phone contracts, or by changing insurers when your policy renews. Millions of us – and particularly the more vulnerable – are overpaying for contracts and subscriptions we don’t want or need. Helping friends and neighbours go through their bank accounts (or encouraging them to go to a safe advice service like Citizens Advice) can flush out these bad deals – and sometimes you can even claim back some cash too.
There are so many dodgy scams doing the rounds. But the best way to beat them is to tell everyone you know the golden rules. Don’t transfer money if someone calls, emails or texts you pretending to be ‘official’. Don’t click links on emails and texts. And always contact businesses through their official website or phoneline.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.