As a lot of us are aware, the overall cost of living has dramatically risen, and talk of the UK’s ‘energy crisis’ has dominated the news over the past 18 months.
According to National Energy Action (NEA), 4.5 million households were considered to be in fuel poverty in October 2021. That figure is now thought to be scarily higher: the NEA estimates that 7.5 million UK households are now struggling. As of April 2023, the average cost of a typical household energy bill in the UK is £2,500 per year. This is an unprecedented increase on the figures recorded at the end of 2021, which stated an average cost of £1,133 per year.
With the crisis predicted to last well into 2024, it’s no wonder that making the pennies stretch is at the forefront of many people’s minds.
What is the energy crisis and how did it happen?
In a nutshell, the energy crisis has left millions struggling to keep on top of and pay their energy bills. Influenced by various factors, the crisis first emerged in autumn 2021.
The Covid-19 pandemic inevitably has a lot to answer for. Following record lows in gas prices during lockdown, the recovery of the economy saw a rebound in the demand for energy. In September 2021, the effects of this shift really started to show. Gas prices quadrupled.
By December 2021, it was reported that 28 energy companies had been forced to close, affecting over two million customers.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused wholesale gas prices to surge uncontrollably, and inflation has played its part, too. Inflation reflects the rising costs of goods and services over a period of time. The increased cost of energy sources has meant that companies are having to charge customers more for usage.
What if you can’t pay your energy bill?
Times are hard; there is absolutely no denying that. Sometimes, making small changes just isn’t enough to keep us afloat in the current climate, and the prospect of paying bills can be daunting.
If you are struggling to pay your energy bills, there are things you can do to ease the burden.
Contact your energy supplier.
Under rules regulated by Ofgem, if you reach out to your energy provider for help, they have to help you. They may suggest a payment plan to realistically suit your needs, offer respite in the form of payment breaks, or offer you additional time to pay.
It’s worth noting that each energy company will have a hardship support grant in place for customers in debt. For example, the British Gas Energy Support Fund aims to provide grants and advice for struggling customers.
You can also request a flexible monthly direct debit, which will mean you are only paying for what you use each month (you will need a smart meter for this).
Every supplier is different, but it’s important to reach out as soon as possible to discuss your options.
Check to see if you’re eligible for a scheme.
Log onto the Gov.uk website for information on a variety of schemes that have been launched to help. Such schemes include a one-off £300 Pensioner Cost of Living Payment, and a £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment. Your local council may also be able to provide some additional support. The Household Support Fund may be able to step in and help if you are classed as a vulnerable and are not able to pay for essentials such as food, or energy and water bills.
Know your rights.
Energy disconnections are a possibility in extreme circumstances. Your energy supplier cannot threaten you with disconnection if you are of state pension age and live alone, or live with only with other pensioners or under 18s.
Look into the Priority Services Register (PSR)
The PSR is a list of households who are classed as ‘vulnerable’ and should receive extra support in terms of paying their bills. Visit the Ofgem website for further information on the PSR.
The good news is that there are a number of savvy suggestions designed to help you save money on your energy bills. These can be easily incorporated into your everyday life. Check out our tips below for inspiration.
Ways to cut costs on your energy bills
Jump on the smart meter bandwagon - if you haven’t already!
Enabling you to keep a track of your spending in real time, smart meters allow you to set daily, weekly, and monthly budgets. They create accurate billing, rather than estimated costs.
In recent years, smart meters have replaced dated systems that often resulted in inaccurate meter readings and bills. Your energy supplier should be able to install your smart meter for free.
Invest in an electric blanket
What to do when those chilly nights creep in, bringing with them unwelcome sub-minus temperatures? Before the energy crisis struck, it’s fair to say that many of us associated electric blankets with our grans. But the humble electric blanket enjoyed a revival last winter and has since become a household staple across Britain.
Low cost to run, cheaper than turning the heating on, and cosy to nestle under with a hot chocolate in front of a Harry Potter movie marathon, an electric blanket is a savvy investment.
Oh ‘fry’ goodness! Who doesn’t love an air fryer?!
A lot like the electric blanket, the air fryer is another star in the energy crisis show. Smaller in size than the conventional oven, an air fryer requires less energy to use; they also cook a lot quicker than conventional ovens, which will save you money in the long run.
Research conducted by Utilita in August 2022 put one of Britain’s favourite foods – the legendary fish finger – to the test, and discovered that the average cost to cook via a standard electric oven would set you back 57p a day, £17.27 per month, and £207.22 per year. In stark comparison, firing the fingers in the fryer would cost 9p a day, £2.88 per month and £3453 per year.
Not only are they doing their bit in helping us count the pennies, but food cooked in an air fryer is tastier and healthier (due to the fact they don‘t require oil)! What’s not to love?
Limit your loads.
Hands up who’s ever been guilty of chucking a single item in the washing machine? That shirt you need for work tomorrow, or the dress you really want to wear for your night out? Us too! However, it goes without saying that the less we fire up the machine the less energy we’re using and the less money we’re spending. Keep loads to a minimum, and wash at 30 degrees where possible to reduce costs.
Turn a blind eye to the tumble.
Of course, there’s no better feeling than hanging your washing out to dry on a sunny, blustery day, but the good old Great British weather can often put a stop to this simple pleasure. So, what to do when the weather is looking glum and so are your savings? While it’s tempting to whack on the tumble dryer, there are other options to exhaust first.
A heated clothes rack is the underrated best friend of every British household and will prove its money’s worth time and time again. Heated clothes racks are available from numerous retailers, including Asda, Dunelm and Amazon for as little as £40, and can cost from as little as 7p per hour to run.
Get stand-offish with stand-by!
According to the Energy Saving Trust, turning electrical appliances such as the television off standby by switching them off at the plug can save you an estimated whopping £65 a year!
Switch off to switch up your savings.
It’s a no brainer: turn the lights off in any room you’re not using! Swapping standard bulbs for the LED types can also make a difference.
A shower of compliments… for your wallet.
Swapping your baths for showers and showering for no more than four minutes a day are great ways to reduce your water usage. Do your bit for the environment and your savings!
And finally... Know that there is always help available.
Being in a position where you feel unable to pay your bills can be really daunting, but remember that there is help out there. Organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau, National Debt Line, MoneyHelper and StepChange can offer further, free advice. You are not alone.