Staying warm this winter is going to be a challenge for millions of households.
That's because four of the 'Big Six' energy providers – SSE, British Gas, npower and Scottish Power – have announced price rises. The other two – EDF Energy and E.ON – are expected to follow suit before the end of the year.
These companies supply power to 99% of homes in the UK.
The rises announced so far will add around £130 a year to a typical dual fuel bill, pushing energy costs over the £1,500 mark.
That's a lot of extra money to try and pluck out of nowhere.
So here are a few suggestions on where to turn if you're struggling with your energy bills this winter.Use free helplines and websites
Have you heard of the Energy Company Obligation? Or the Warm Home Discount Scheme?
The maze of benefits and grants available to those that are struggling with their energy bills can be hard to navigate.
Using a free helpline or visiting these websites can make what support is out there, and available to you, much clearer.
Home Heat Helpline
Home Heat Helpline assisted around 42,000 people over the 2012/13 winter and was able to make around £250 of savings per household. But the organisation believes it can help millions more.
The free impartial service is available over the phone on 0800 33 66 99 and you can now a chat to an adviser online through its new web chat service. The website also has lots of information available via factsheets.
Energy Savings Advice Service
The Energy Savings Advice Service offers impartial advice on how to cut energy bills, and can explain things like the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation, which can offer certain lower income households free energy-saving improvements to their homes.
The service is provided by the Energy Savings Trust on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
You can get in touch via the helpline on 0300 123 1234 (England and Wales) 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday, Saturday 10am to 2pm. Or 0808 808 2282 (Scotland) 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday. Alternatively you can email email@example.com.
Turn2Us is a charity that helps people in financial trouble get access to benefits, grants and other financial help online and over the phone.
The website features a benefits calculator and grants search as well as helpful information and resources.
But if you can't access the internet you can use the helpline on 0808 802 8000, which is available 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, and speak to an impartial advisor.
Citizens Advice Bureau
The Citizens Advice Bureau helps people resolve problems with debt, benefits, employment, housing and much more.
So if your problems with energy bills encompass a lot of other issues you can look for information on the website in the form of its Advice Guides, call the helpline for your area or visit a local office.
The Gov.uk website contains details about all Government departments and will have all the up-to-date information about benefits including heating and housing as well as others that could help your situation.
It also has its own energy grants calculator to help you work out what you can get based on your circumstances.
Also for those in Northern Ireland check out the Warm Homes Scheme (0800 988 0559) and if you live in Wales you can get help from Nest (0808 808 2244).
Clear debt with energy trusts and funds
Some energy providers contribute to a trust or fund which is administered by a charity. These can provide grants to clear debts including energy bills.
British Gas, EDF and npower all contribute to a pot for their customers, but British Gas is the only one that accepts applications from people who are supplied by other companies. It has contributed £18 million this year.
In order to be considered you will need to fill out an application form detailing your circumstances. Here are the websites to access the forms:
- npower Energy Fund (www.npowerenergyfund.com)
- British Gas Energy Trust (www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk)
- EDF Energy Trust (www.edfenergytrust.org.uk)
SSE has a slightly different pot of money to help its customers called the Priority Assistance Fund. Unlike the other schemes this doesn't require an external application process carried out by an independent administrator. Instead, it happens in-house and staff are given the power to identify those who may be eligible for assistance. SSE predicts that this year it will help 3,500 vulnerable customers with support worth up to £900 each. Which is why you should definitely consider our next suggestion.
Contact your energy provider
If you think you will have problems paying your energy bill you should contact your provider.
Energy providers will have a section on their website explaining what it can do to help. Here are the links to the major providers:
The Warm Home Discount Scheme, for example, provides a one-off payment towards your electricity bill and this year it is worth £135.
Pensioners that meet certain criteria, known as the 'core' group, get this benefit automatically through the Department of Work and Pensions.
But energy companies will also pay the discount to other vulnerable people as well.
Each supplier will have their own rules on who from this 'broader' group can get this help and they must apply for the discount direct.
So it's well worth getting in touch.
Use our comparison service to compare tariffs
The helplines and websites listed above won't be able to suggest a better tariff to help you avoid falling into financial difficulty.
If you're worried about the price rises and think you might struggle our energy comparison engine can help you find a better deal that can see you through the winter.
See if you can switch and save on your gas and electricity bills