From today, you can now take out a loan to fund energy efficiency improvement works to your home as part of the Government's flagship Green Deal scheme.
What is the Green Deal?
Very simply, the Green Deal offers loans to pay for energy insulation measures such as cavity wall and loft insulation, and renewable energy products including solar panels. The repayments for the loan, including interest, will be added to a household's electricity bills.
However, the whole initiative is built on the premise that the savings a household will make on its energy bills will quickly outweigh the repayments. This has been called the 'Golden Rule'. For more on the scheme and how it will work in detail, read The Green Deal explained.
Who's offering the Green Deal?
Companies including British Gas, Carillion, E.ON, Keepmoat, npower and SSE have signed up to become Green Deal providers. More companies are likely to be announced in the coming weeks. You can find a list of companies in your postcode on this Green Deal website.
The Government is offering cashback to incentivise people to sign up to the Green Deal. You can receive this regardless of whether you own your own home, rent privately or live in social housing. Landlords are also eligible up to certain limits, providing they pay the installation costs.
To receive your cashback, you'll need to have a Green Deal assessment carried out and have the work carried out by an approved Green Deal provider.
You can then apply for a voucher, which the provider will then redeem and you will be paid your cashback.
The more improvements you make, the more cashback you will be paid.
Here are the cashback amounts being offered now:
Energy efficiency measure
Loft insulation (including top up)
Cavity Wall Insulation
Solid Wall Insulation*
Flat roof insulation
Room in roof insulation
Hot water cylinder insulation (top up)**
Heating controls (roomstat and/or programmer & time/temperature zone controls)**
Condensing oil boiler from non-condensing oil heating or other ***
Upgrade boiler to condensing gas boiler from non-condensing boiler or other.
Flue Gas heat recovery (condensing combi boiler) only alongside replacement boiler
New or replacement storage heaters
Replacement warm-air unit
Waste water heat recovery systems
Double/Triple Glazing (old single to A)
£20 per m2 up to a maximum of £320
£15 per m2 up to a maximum of £230
High performance replacement doors
* A minimum of 50% of external walls must be insulated to qualify for cashback.
** Cannot be claimed at same time as boiler replacement (as this is a regulatory requirement).
*** Householders should consider their renewable heat options, as they could get a higher payment under Renewable Heat Premium Payment now, for certain measures.
The work must also be completed within specified timelines, which are six months for solid wall improvements and three months for other improvements. All improvements have to be finished by 31st March 2014. This cashback scheme is only operating in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
If you live in Scotland, the Government is offering up to £500 in cashback, with a further £100 to pay for the assessment. You can find out more about this on the Energy Saving Trust Scotland website.
You should shop around for both your assessment and any works you want done. When you're getting quotes for an assessment, be aware that some companies will not charge you up-front, but only if you then commit to them doing any work.
It looks like the average assessment cost will be around £100; British Gas has been offering one for £99 for a few months. But different providers may charge different interest rates, so you need to factor that in as well.
You should be careful not to to commit to any works during the assessment before you've had a chance to look at any paperwork. Resist hard sells such as fantastic discounts that are only on offer for a limited period of time.
And you should definitely get more than one quote for the works. You should also be aware of any early repayment charges. These may become an issue if you want to sell your home and the buyer doesn't want to pay the ongoing Green Deal charges.
Could you pay for improvements another way?
Of course, the Green Deal isn't the only way you could fund energy efficiency improvements. If the works cost a few thousand pounds, you could spread the cost interest-free over up to 16 months via a 0% purchases credit card. You may also be able to increase the size of your mortgage, at a lower interest rate than offered by the Green Deal.
Or you may even find a personal loan is cheaper in terms of the interest rate, although you won't have as long to pay it back as you would have done via the Green Deal and you need to watch out for any other fees.
With any of the above options, you will have greater flexibility to shop around for a company to carry out your improvement works. But it's probably worth paying for a Green Deal assessment anyway, as this will highlight the parts of your home that may need improving, unless you already know what needs to be done.
Advice on energy efficiency
If you want help and advice on energy saving and information about schemes you may be eligible for, you can call the impartial Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Calls are charged at standard national rates.
If you live in Scotland, call your local Energy Saving Scotland advice centre free on 0800 512 012.
What do you think of the Green Deal? Let us know in the Comments section below.
10 of the biggest consumer rip-offs
Green Deal finance now available
Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.
To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.
Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.
At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.
It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.
With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.
No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.
Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.
Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.
While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.
Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.
However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.
However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.
Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.
Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.