Almost half of us facing fuel crisis

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A worrying 43% of people are worried they won't be able to afford their next fuel bill, according to Citizen's Advice. Its research found that people are resorting to desperate measures, but are unaware of the help that is available.

So what can you do?

Under pressure

The survey was released by Citizens Advice at the start of its Big Energy Week, which it hopes will help people save money on their fuel bills. One in two say energy bills will put a strain on their finances this year, and parents with children under 15 living at home are most worried about energy bills.

The level of stress our fuel budgets are under is alarming. Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said: "We know hikes in prices have put extra pressure on people's budgets at a time when money is already tight." Last November eight times as many people went to Citizens Advice for online advice on cutting their fuel bills compared to the previous November.

The soaring cost of energy - along with the squeeze elsewhere in our household budgets - is pushing many people to breaking point. We may be seeing bills come down as much as 5% in the latest round of price changes, but it doesn't stop the fact that average energy bills rose around 20% last year to an incredible average of £1,294 a year.

Desperate

It's a desperate situation for many. The survey found that 53% of people plan to save cash by having their heating on less. This could lead to serious health problems in some cases, particularly for older people. Around two thirds have already cut back in this area, so cutting back even more could be a serious worry.

However, the charity highlighted that before taking drastic steps, there are alternatives. Guy said the first step should be to shop around: "We're worried that some people are struggling unnecessarily because they're not on the best deal"

She added that others "Live in homes that haemorrhage heat or are not getting all of the financial help available to them." There is plenty of help there if you look. The survey highlighted that one in three people don't know that energy companies are offering help to insulate their home, which could cut the cost dramatically and even make it free to some homeowners.

Simple steps

It recommended some simple steps to cut your bill
  • Contact your supplier to check you are you are on the best tariff and payment method for you. Monthly direct debit is on average £100 cheaper per year than paying by cash or cheque.
  • Visit an accredited switching website to see if you could get your energy cheaper elsewhere. You may be able to save up to £200 off your annual bill by shopping around for a different supplier, particularly if you have never changed energy firm.
  • Insulate the walls and the loft of your home and you could save on average around £120 per year. All major gas and electricity suppliers are giving away free or discounted insulation to any household, not just their own customers. Ask if you're eligible so you don't miss out. That goes for heating oil customers too.
  • Check you are not missing out on any benefits or tax credits that could up your income; your local Citizens Advice Bureaux can help you with this.
  • Using less energy could save you money, just by doing simple things like turning off lights and switching appliances off at the wall. Turning your thermostat down 1°C alone could cut your heating bill by £60 on average.
  • If you are unable to pay your bills you should contact your energy supplier immediately as they have to help you manage your bills in a way that you can afford.
  • If you use heating oil or liquid petroleum gas to heat your home, shop around and compare prices from different oil suppliers. You could also save money by buying in bulk with your neighbours; check if there is an oil club you can join or start one up.
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