The shocking bills rising twice as fast as rail fares

Virgin and Sky bills rise twice as fast as rail fares: what can you do about it?

Train fares

Hikes in rail fares get us understandably hot under the collar. After-all, they have risen around four times the rate of wage rises over the past seven years - so we're wasting more and more of our pay each month on commuting. However, while we stage demonstrations to protest against the injustice of rail fare rises, another bill has been quietly hiked at twice the pace - and it has largely gone unnoticed.

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Since 2010 rail fares have risen 27% - which explains why we're quite so irritated about them. However, research from Freesat has found that at the same time, the cost of Sky TV and Virgin Media's popular bundles have risen by an average of 50%.

Media prices

In 2010, a basic Sky package, topped up with sports channels, cost £35 a month. However, subscribing to the equivalent today (the Original Bundle plus sports channels) would set you back £49.50 - a 41% increase. Meanwhile, the company's top-end package (including movies and sports) has risen from £48.50 in 2010 to £80 in 2017.

Over the same period, Virgin Media's basic package (without a phone line) has risen from £11 a month to £20 a month.

The companies argue that over the years, the services provided by these packages have also increased, with more quality programmes on more channels, more functionality on things like the Tivo and Sky boxes, more options for streaming, and higher definition channels.

However, if you don't care about any of these whistles and bells, you're not getting any additional benefit in return for your higher bills.

What can you do?

Freesat, which did the research, points out that 99% of the most watched channels are available free-to-air. Clearly they have an ulterior motive in highlighting this, because they offer a subscription-free satellite service, where you pay for the box and then everything else is free.

However, it's a useful reminder that if you just want more programmes than you can get on terrestrial TV, there are other ways to get them. There are thousands of TV programmes and films available on streaming services like Amazon Prime, Netflix and Now TV, so you don't need to sign up to a satellite or cable provider in order to get the entertainment you need.

If there are specific programmes or sporting events only available on channels offered by Virgin or Sky, you still have the option of haggling with your provider.

Before you call them, it's worth doing your research, to understand which channels and programmes you most want to watch. Then look at the best alternative deal that will allow you to watch it. Your provider, and its competitors, will often run promotions and discount codes, so you need to know what's on offer.

When you are ready, call them and tell them you want to cancel - because that will get you through to the department that can do a deal. Then when you get onto the right person, be polite and friendly, and just ask for a cheaper offer.

If they refuse, or make an offer you're not happy with, mention the best alternative deal you have seen elsewhere and ask them to match it. Once they have offered a deal you are happy with, you can always ask them to throw in some extras - like additional channels or free calls.

Haggling doesn't always work (especially if you have a long time left on your contract), and it may not come naturally to you, but when it does, you could save hundreds of pounds a year just by asking - and that has to be worth trying, doesn't it?

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