Keep warm for less

Posted on: 18 January 2010 by Mark O'haire

There are a host of initiatives that could dramatically reduce your energy bills.

For people all over Britain, keeping warm has become a top priority.

Plummeting temperatures and icy conditions have led to a huge increase in the use of central heating and gas usage has risen some 30% on normal seasonal demand.

When it comes to keeping our homes warm and snug, particularly in these cash-strapped times, UK consumers need all the help they can get.

First of all, if you have never changed providers or haven't done so recently you could find you are paying seriously over the odds for both your gas and electricity.

This is because energy suppliers often save their most competitive prices for new customers. Switching to a better deal today could save you as much as £430.

Your next step should be to find out what grants and discounts are currently on offer for those struggling to meet the cost of heating their homes.

Cut-price boiler replacement

Three UK boiler scrappage schemes have recently been launched, offering discounts to people replacing their old, inefficient boilers with new, energy-efficient models.

The government's scheme (launched this week) offers £400 off the cost of a new boiler. To qualify, households need to have a working, G-rated boiler (for those aged over 60, the boiler does not need to be in working order).

If you fall into this category, you can apply for a £400 grant (via the Energy Saving Trust) to have your boiler replaced with a shiny new A-rated model.

It's a deal worth thinking about. A new boiler can cut 25% (£250 for the average family) from your gas bill but the initial cost (typically between £1,000 and £2,000) has proved a stumbling block for many. Any scheme bringing this cost down means savings are multiplied.

To find out more about the government scheme, and how to apply for your grant, you can visit the Energy Saving Trust's website.

These grants are on offer to just 125,000 households. With around 3.5 million homes in England thought to have the least-efficient type of boiler (G-rated or worse) this means you'll need to act fast to make sure you get your discount.

Energy providers npower and British Gas have launched boiler scrappage schemes of their own. They are offering homeowners an additional £400 off a new boiler when they replace one that is more than 10 years old.

Therefore by taking advantage of both the government and either the npower or British Gas scheme you could save a total of £800.

Grants for insulation and heating

There are several other government-backed schemes to cope with energy costs. If you are elderly or on a low income, you may well be entitled to completely free home insulation and significant help towards your heating costs.

Warm Front England scheme

This provides households with a package of insulation and/or heating grants up to the value of £3,500 (up to £6,000 where oil, low carbon or renewable technologies are recommended).

People who may be eligible for the scheme include those aged over 60 on certain benefits, those with children under 16 on certain benefits and some other low-income groups. To find out whether you're entitled to make a claim, visit the Warm Front website.

You cannot apply for the Warm Front scheme as well as the boiler scrappage scheme.

Energy Assistance Package Scotland

This scheme is designed to provide insulation grants, help people find cheaper energy prices and make sure they're on the right tariffs.

People who may be eligible for grant assistance include those on certain benefits, those aged over 75 and those who currently have no central heating. To find out more, visit this page of the Scottish government's website.

Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) Wales

This scheme provides grants to improve energy efficiency, as well as energy advice.

Low-income groups and those on a variety of benefits may be eligible for grants. To find out more, visit the HEES website.

Warm Homes Scheme Northern Ireland

This scheme is funded by the Department for Social Development and provides grant help with the cost of home insulation and heating costs and heating installation in Northern Ireland.

You may be eligible for financial help if you are on certain benefits, own your home or rent from a private landlord (help is not available for public sector properties). To find out more, visit the Warm Homes website.

Seasonal payments

There are also seasonal payments available for certain people in the UK. The first is the Winter Fuel Payment, paid to everyone aged 60 and over.

The amount you will receive will depend on your personal circumstances and your age: those aged 60-79 can claim up to £250, while those aged 80 and over can claim up to £400.

The Winter Fuel Payment is usually given automatically to those who are eligible. However, if you have not had the payment before and are not getting a state pension or another benefit, you may need to apply. You can find out more on this page of the Directgov website.

The other seasonal help you may be eligible for is the Cold Weather Payment. This is paid automatically to certain low-income groups, to help cover the cost of coping with periods of very cold weather in your area.

This year, you will get £25 when the average temperature where you live is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below over seven consecutive days during the period from November 1 to March 31. You can find out more on this page of the Directgov website.

Help from your energy supplier

Finally, you may be able to get financial assistance from your energy supplier.

Several of the major providers have set up charitable funds to assist customers on low incomes who are facing financial difficulty.

These include E.on's CaringEnergy fund, the EDF Energy trust fund, the British Gas Energy trust (which incorporates the Scottish Gas Energy trust) and the Scottish Power Energy People trust.

If you are a customer of one of these providers and struggling to pay your energy bills, it is well worth contacting the fund in question to find out what help is on offer.

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