Coronavirus Advice And Utility Bills
We’ve all been asked to do our bit in the fight against Coronavirus in Scotland. We’ve all heard the rallying bugle calls and the vast majority of us have heeded the advice of our Government and stayed at home, protected the NHS and saved lives.
However, with an increased amount of time in our homes as we fight the virus wearing our capes from the comfort of our couches, we’re regrettably increasing the cost of our electricity and gas consumption, meaning that we’re accruing substantial utility bills, directly after the heftiest period in our energy billing cycle: Winter.
Ofgem, the industry regulators, have even set up their own Covid-19 energy news section due to increased demands for information. It’s an ideal source of information where you will be able to keep up to date with the latest Government guidance, should you encounter a power cut, gas leak or meter issue.
Research from uSwitch shows that we can expect an average increase in our Coronavirus energy bills of £195 per year across households in Scotland as we self-isolate. This is based on the assumption that the average household will consume 25% more electricity and 17% more gas per day.
Utility Bills Debts
Arrears for utility bills from a previous address can be included within a Trust Deed, or Debt Arrangement Scheme, however, if you’re struggling with your current supplier – you should treat your gas and electric bills as a priority debt. Alongside your mortgage and rent, and council tax.
If you can’t pay your energy bills, the government announced in March that it would ensure that the most vulnerable people would be protected from losing power and gas to their homes. As a result, all energy suppliers have vowed to help anyone struggling to repay their bills.
This means that there is an extra level of security knowing that you will not be left to self-isolate without your gas and electricity. We’ve included links to the major energy providers and their individual Coronavirus help centres:
The energy providers have mostly said that they will deal with their customers on a case-by-case basis. However, if you’re struggling financially remember that you’re not getting to waive your utility bills completely but deferring payments with continuous supply but without penalty.
Options open to you
- Delaying the date your bill is due
- Extending the payment period
- Suspension of late payment fees
Understandably, all providers are having to work with reduced staff capacity and higher volumes of calls meaning you will have a longer wait time than usual. If this happens, we advise that you search the energy providers website for available LiveChat facilities, WhatsApp or contact them via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; wherever else they have a presence on social media, or online.
Contact them as soon as you can, and try to remain calm while you wait. Remember, the call centre operators are getting used to the new working conditions as much as yourself.
Reducing Energy Bills during the Coronavirus outbreak
While we can add extra layers of clothing, read more and switch off our TVs and mobile phones while we talk to our loved ones and play board games with the kids, a more practical way of saving money would be to switch providers.
Ofgem recommends switching energy suppliers and shopping for a better energy deal regularly to save money.
You can try the Citizens Advice energy comparison tool. You can also try one of these Ofgem accredited energy price comparison sites
Other measures we can take to save money on energy bills during the Coronavirus, or beyond include:
Washing Machines and Tumble Dryers – Washing at 20°C or 30°C instead of 40°C. Which? wrote “When we tested machines on the 20°C cotton program, we found that turning down the temperature from 40°C dramatically reduced washing machine running costs – by an average of 66%. This is because washing machines need to use less energy to heat water to lower temperatures.”
Hang washing outside if safe to do so with social distancing restrictions in place and/or use clothing racks instead of the tumble dryer.
Switching lightbulbs – LED lightbulbs use 20% of the power of traditional incandescent lightbulbs.
Conserving Gas – Shorter showers, adjusting the central heating to a lesser degree on the thermostat and turning off radiators in some rooms all help.
Conserving Electric – Turn devices off at the wall and don’t leave them on standby as this can account for 10% of your typical bill, self-isolating or not. Use natural light and keep your fridge and freezer at their ideal temperature. For your fridge this is between 2°C and 3°C and your freezer should be at -18°C.
Ask your employer if you can make a claim for utility bills. You can claim back between £4-£6 per week – if your employer says no, you can complete a self-assessment and declare on your tax return.
Self-Isolation & Prepayment Meters
If you or your family are self-isolating, or access to locations that offer prepayment services have been reduced – understandable this will cause further stress and anxiety should you be self-isolating.
If you can, you can ask a friend of the family for help topping up. You can find help from local Facebook groups and charities, but always be vigilant to stay safe against Coronavirus scams.
Ask your energy provider if a prepaid card can be sent
Your energy provider may further access your situation on a case-by-case basis.
Trust Deed Scotland has reached out to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma to find out if further help will be offered to those on prepayment meters, but as yet haven’t received a response.
Broadband, Telephone & Television Subscriptions
The average household can save £69 on their broadband bills by switching when their contract ends according to uSwitch.
Home phone bills can be expensive, especially when many of us currently have evening and weekend packages. Broadband too can be expensive so we’ve pulled together a few tips to help keep your broadband bills lower.
- Switch supplier. Sticking with the same broadband and home phone provider can be expensive. uSwitch reports instances where bills have jumped 400% when a contract is rolled over!
- Match your deal to your needs – Be careful you’re not spending money on channels and data you don’t use, or get charged for going over your limit. If you’re not sure how much you use, ask your broadband supplier. And if you do have an evening and weekend package – check the costs per connection. Don’t get caught out with calls being charged when they reach a certain length.
- Landline Small Print – In many cases you need a landline to get broadband, but not all. Take into account your landline costs when looking at comparing broadband prices as many seemingly cheap deals require you to take out expensive line rental.
- Look at monthly and annual cost breakdown – Beware 6 months and 12 months reduced price deals. If you are committed to 24-month contracts this will result in you being tied into an unaffordable subscription at worst or any unwelcome surprises. As many people will testify, the providers aren’t as keen to remind you about their increased cost when they become due, as they were when you signed up with them! All of a sudden, your direct debit takes a substantial hit.
- Upsell, Cross-sell, Bait and Switch – Watch out for these tactics used by many companies offering services who will use these tactics to increase the monthly subscription cost, and marketed to you as an affordable upgrade. A couple of quid here, a couple of pounds there – Before you know it – you’ve signed up for a 10 room TV subscription and you only have 5 rooms or less in your home!
- Promoted Products – As much as we love comparison sites, watch out for them leaning you towards one product over another. As much as we love Martin Lewis and his MoneySavingExpert.com website, especially during the Coronavirus Outbreak, where he’s doing an admirable job – his website is ultimately an affiliate site, which makes money itself by referring you to particular brands, products and services.
- Cease and Re-Provide – If your broadband, telephone and television contract is due to end with your current provider; you cancel the agreement and tell your provider that you are moving to a competitor of theirs. This is where you get moved over to the suppliers ‘retention’ team, which usually means that a significant discount can be achieved because those teams have more saving abilities than the standard call centre operator. Why? Because at this point, they would rather lose ‘margin’ on you than lose your money completely. And, if you can tough it out and keep your provider hanging out for longer, you may be able to barter a better deal for yourself. Lastly, check your contract for charges for canceling the contract and only explore the cease and re-provide option if you feel confident enough to carry this out.
Ofcom, the regulators of broadband and telephone services have an approved list of accredited broadband websites that you can use to compare deals.
Watch out for special deals from streaming services providers. Disney+ is offering a 7 day free trial with content to suit the kids and the rest of the family alike. Amazon Prime is offering a 30-day free trial. Britbox, which offers a combination of BBC and ITV content is offering 30 days free too. Netflix unfortunately no longer offer free trials, but like other streaming services provider do offer rolling monthly contracts and again there is content in there for all the family.
Utility Bills Debt Advice
A gas or electric bill on its own is not significant enough to explore Scottish debt solutions such as Trust Deeds, Debt Arrangement Scheme or Minimal Asset Process.
Typically previous property gas and electric bills can be added as a creditor in these situations, however, there should be a significant amount owed overall and the minimum level of unaffordable debt required for a Trust Deed us £5,000 or more.
At Trust Deed Scotland® we understand that debt can be overwhelming,
You may be finding it difficult to cope already and with the current conditions, this may be causing you to worry further about how you will afford to repay your unsecured debt including utility bills, don’t worry every year we help thousands of Scottish residents enjoy a debt free future.
To get started, call us on 0141 221 0999 or try our Trust Deed Wizard® tool.