17 Oct 2011

Fuel bills: how you can save up to £400

To coincide with a government energy summit, Channel 4 News looks at what consumers can do to cut their bills – and finds that annual savings of up to £400 can be made.

Channel 4 News looks at how people can cut their energy bills (Reuters)

These big savings are available for those who have never switched gas or electricity supplier before, are prepared to pay by direct debit and take advantage of homes insulation offers.

With 60 per cent of people telling the energy regulator Ofgem that they have never switched in the past, Consumer Focus (CF) says doing so could lead to savings of up to £200, while for those paying by cash or cheque, changing to direct debit could result in further cuts of £100 a year.

All suppliers are offering free or cut-price loft and cavity wall insulation, which could knock another £100 off the £1,300 average cost of heating and lighting our homes.

Many people simply don’t think there is much point changing tariff, payment method or supplied. But they could be losing out. Mike O’Connor, Consumer Focus chief executive

CF, which describes itself as the UK’s “consumer champion”, says if you have shopped around in the past and are paying by direct debit, savings can still be made, but they will be smaller.

Big reductions are only likely to be made by those who have never switched supplier and are on the standard tariff (75 per cent of people).

CF chief executive Mike O’Connor says: “Many people simply don’t think there is much point changing tariff, payment method or supplier. But they could be losing out on hundreds of pounds a year because their home leaks heat or they’re missing out on a better deal.”

How do you switch supplier?

CF has accredited 13 price comparison websites, nine of which offer a telephone service:

beatthatquote.com: 0845 652 1546
energyhelpline.com: 0800 074 0745
energylinx.co.uk: 0800 849 7077
moneysupermarket.com: 0845 345 1296
simplyswitch.com: 08000 111 395
theenergyshop.com: 0845 330 7247
ukpower.co.uk: 0800 093 2447
uswitch.com: 0800 404 7908
which.co.uk/switch: 01992 822867 (seasonal telephone service until 1 Feb 2012)

Channel 4 News looks at how people can cut their energy bills (Getty)

What has happened to fuel bills recently?

EDF Energy was the last of the ‘Big Six’ companies to announce a price hike in recent months, raising gas bills by 15.4 per cent and electricity bills by 4.5 per cent from 10 November.

The other five have raised their prices by the following amounts:

npower – 15.7 per cent for gas; 7.2 per cent for electricity (from 1 October)
SSE – 18 per cent for gas; 11 per cent for electricity (from 14 September)
E.ON – 18.1 per cent for gas; 11.4 per cent for electricity (from 13 September)
British Gas – 18 per cent for gas; 16 per cent for electricity (from 18 August)
Scottish Power – 19 per cent for gas; 10 per cent for electricity (from 1 August)

Read more: Government pledges to bring down energy bills

What other improvements could be made?

Among the changes CF wants to see are:

A competition review of the structure of the energy market; more transparency so consumers know whether their bills are fair; more competition in the retail energy market; a strategy to help consumers cut their bills and help those in fuel poverty; an end to cold call doorstep energy sales; an end to complex and confusing tariffs.

What do the energy companies say?

The leading energy companies have agreed to contact customers, encouraging them to shop around for the best deal.

Lawrence Slade, chief operating officer of the Energy Retail Association, which represents the ‘Big Six’ gas and electricity companies, says: “They’ll be communicating with millions of people over the next few months to provide a ‘nudge’ that reminds people to check they’re on the right deal.

“We’ll also be stepping up efforts to encourage people to take up insulation in their homes, which can save hundreds of pounds year after year. Over 3.5 million households have already benefited from free or subsidised cavity wall and loft insulation. And very soon we’ll be launching our winter home heat helpline campaign, which provides support to society’s most vulnerable people, directing them to all the help they’re entitled to.”