Millions of energy customers missing out on financial help

energyAround 3.4 million people living in the UK who are eligible for help to pay for their energy bills are unaware they qualify for assistance.

At a time when energy bills are shooting through the roof, and freezing temperatures are gripping the country, the Home Heat Helpline (HHH) is urging people to check if they are able to get help with their bills.
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On average, energy customers are able to receive £160 per year but not enough people are taking advantage of this money.

Help with energy bills
Research from HHH found that 49% of people who are likely to be eligible for some form of assistance realise they could get help. And only 38% had got in touch with their energy supplier or HHH to ask for assistance.

Right now there are 3.5 million households in England alone in fuel poverty, according to the charity Turn2Us, and this means they are spending 10% or more of their income on fuel bills.

On top of this all of the 'Big Six' energy providers have hiked their energy costs once again this year, putting further strain on customers trying to afford their gas and electricity.

But there is help available such as grants for new boilers, home insulation and discount and rebate schemes.

What are you entitled to?
If you're struggling to pay your energy bills, the first thing to do is to find out if you're able to get extra help. Your energy provider should be able to tell you, but if not an organisation such as HHH or Turn2Us can work out your entitlements for free.

There are lots of different schemes available to help people to pay for fuel bills.

Winter Fuel Payments, for example, are for those aged 60 and upwards while Cold Weather Payments are for people on a low income when the local weather falls to zero degrees centigrade or below for at least seven days in a row.

There is also the Warm Home Discount, which you should be entitled to if your electricity supplier belongs to the scheme and you're getting the guarantee part of Pension Credit.
Most of the major suppliers, such as British Gas, Scottish Gas, EDF and npower, all have energy trusts set up which give help to those struggling with payments, and there are also rebate schemes to help you with winter payments.

A full list of benefits can be found on the Turn2Us website.

How to lower costs
If you're not eligible for help with your bills, there are still other ways to cut costs.

Switching suppliers is one of the most effective ways to cut costs and you can save an average of £300. Our comparison tables will show you exactly how much you can save and our step-by-step article will show you how to switch.

Turning your thermostat down by just 1C could cut 10% from your annual bills and turning appliances off, rather than putting them on standby, will lower your costs.

Our article lists many more ways to help with energy bills.There are also lots of unconventional methods to help you save money with your fuel bills, such as with self-heating pyjamas or by sticking a brick in your toilet. The full list of the strangest ways to cut costs on your house bills can be found in our piece.

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Millions of energy customers missing out on financial help

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.
To avoid paying over the odds, it is also worth checking the price per kilo to ensure that larger 'economy' packs really are cheaper than the smaller versions.

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.
Before signing up, it is therefore essential to check that you will make use of enough of the benefits, and that you cannot get them for less elsewhere.

Overseas money transfers or travel money purchases attract the same high rate of interest as credit card cash withdrawals.

Worse still, most credit cards – and debit cards – also charge you a foreign loading fee if you use them to make purchases while abroad.
You can, however, avoid these charges by using a Saga Platinum or Nationwide Building Society credit card.

Numbers starting 0871 cost 10p or more from a landline, while those starting 09 can cost more than £1 a minute from a mobile phone.

And the operators of these high-cost phone lines, some of which are banks, often get a cut of the call charges.
Most 09 numbers are linked to scams and should therefore be avoided at all costs, while 0871 numbers can often be bypassed by searching for an alternative local rate numbers on the saynoto0870.com.
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