We’ve all felt the first bite of winter in recent weeks. Big coats are off their pegs, scarves and gloves are in regular use, and there’s a frequent urge to turn the heating up and leave it on for longer.
But using more energy for warmth and lighting during the cold, dark months means racking up bigger bills – and for many households, that can be a real financial headache.
In fact, our research shows that three-quarters of Brits will cut their spending elsewhere to pay their winter energy costs, with just over a quarter (26%) fearing they’ll have to spend less on food.
Over a third of Brits are worried about not being able to afford their upcoming energy bills, and 15% say their families will go without heating because of the cost.
So what steps can you take to help reduce costs?
Check your tariff
The first step, if you’re concerned about your winter energy costs, is to check you’re on the most competitive tariff, and to switch if you’re not.
Stephen Murray, our energy expert, says this is the easiest way to secure hefty savings: “If you’ve been with the same energy provider for a long time, or if you’ve never switched, the chances are you’re languishing on an expensive standard variable rate tariff.
“By switching to a competitive fixed rate deal today, you could save £238* on your annual bills.”
Switching is straightforward. You can use our site to find a better deal in a matter of minutes, and the switch itself will be complete within 21 days. There’ll be no interruption to supply and you’ll continue to get the same gas and electricity through the same pipes and wires.
Given the time of year, the sooner you switch the better, as you’ll be paying less for each unit of energy you use at a time of peak consumption.
Use our Energy Monitor
To help ensure you stay on a competitive tariff you can use our Energy Monitor, which keeps track of energy deals for you. You simply sign up for alerts when you run a quote, select how much you’d like to save and Energy Monitor will automatically let you know when there is a deal available with the requested savings.
With a fixed rate tariff, the price per unit is locked down for the duration of the deal, which is usually 12 or 24 months. With a variable rate policy, the price per unit can fluctuate.
To prevent variable tariff bill hikes, the government has introduced two price caps (one for prepayment meters and one for credit meters, where you pay monthly or quarterly for energy you’ve already used).
But despite these being in place, the bulk of variable tariffs are priced much higher than fixed rate alternatives – leading to the price savings Stephen describes.
If you have a prepayment meter, where you top-up using a card, key or online, you can still shop around for a cheaper tariff. You would probably save money if you could move to a credit meter, where costs are generally lower and you have a wider choice of tariffs.
It’s worth asking your supplier about this, or your landlord if you’re renting.
If you have a credit meter and pay the same amount each month by direct debit, make sure your account is up to date by sending meter readings to your supplier (you don’t need to do this if you’ve got smart meters, which automatically send this information).
Your monthly payment will have been set by dividing an estimate of your annual bill by 12, so if your actual consumption has consistently been lower, you’ll have overpaid, putting you in credit.
You can ask for this money back at any time, which could give your household budget a seasonal boost. But a word of caution: the credit you’ve built up might be needed to pay for the extra energy you’ll be using in the coming months, so it might be wise to leave some or all of it in place.
If it turns out your monthly payments are insufficient to pay for your actual energy usage, it’s worth knowing sooner rather than later. It’s better to adjust the payments upwards to start reducing the amount you owe rather than have your energy company ask you to clear your debt.
Further steps to take
Below are some other steps you can take to reduce energy consumption to keep a lid on bills.
Not in use? Turn it off: this applies to lights in empty rooms, radiators in rooms you don’t use, and it means turning appliances off at the wall rather than leaving them on standby.
Fight the draught: cold air coming in means warm air going out. Pay particular attention to keyholes and letterboxes.
Dial it down: see if you can keep comfortably warm with the thermostat one degree lower – the Energy Saving Trust reckons you could save £80 a year that way. The same goes for your washing machine – try a 30 degree wash rather than 40 degrees, say. And if you’re boiling the kettle, only fill it with the amount of water you need.
Power shower: taking a shower typically uses a third to a fifth of the water you’d need for a bath.
It’s also worth checking your entitlement to schemes such as the warm home discount, winter fuel payments and cold weather payments (you might also want to check on behalf of elderly relatives). You can find out more about these schemes in our guide.
If you are in danger of missing a payment, talk to your supplier as they may be able to offer advice. You can find out more about what to do if you can’t pay your energy bills in our guide.
*51% of customers that applied to switch via MoneySuperMarket could save at least £238.25, August 2019.