UK & World News
Take the warmer winter challenge
When even the Prime Minister feels obliged to intervene to make energy bills more affordable, you know that keeping warm this winter is set to be an expensive business.
British Gas, nPower and Scottish Power have announced imminent price rises, while SSE has already increased its tariffs.
No wonder that this month's YouGov Household Economic Activity Tracker has found that people believe that the growing cost of energy is the biggest threat to their standard of living in the coming year. Unemployment was the second-largest threat, followed by inflation. Taxes, state benefits that don't keep pace with the cost of living and low interest rates were all less significant concerns.
But that doesn't mean you have to freeze in silence - or do without hot water, your computer and the tv. Here are some ideas that could help.
Cut back on energy
1) Never leave appliances on stand-by - they use about a third of the electricity that they do when they're on.
2) Draw your curtains and do it before you need the room - it keeps heat in.
3) Turn down the thermostat by a few degrees - you won't notice the difference but your bank balance will. It can be cheaper to leave your heating on low all the time, so experiment.
4) Cook enough for several meals in one batch - say, a stew or casserole - and reheat portions in the microwave. Ovens are expensive to run.
Get the right deals
1) Stop paying by cash or cheque. Online customers usually get the best deals and energy companies offer generous discounts in you pay monthly by direct debit.
2) Most people don't realise that utility accounts are a form of credit because you pay after you've used the gas, electricity, water and so on. If you've got a good credit record, you could get better deals.
3) If you're thinking of switching suppliers, check your credit report first. Look for errors such as closed accounts that are still marked as open, and check that your address on your bills is consistent with that on your credit report. Ask the relevant lender to correct the information. It's free to see your Experian credit report with a 30-day trial of CreditExpert.
4) Do your research into what's available - look at personal finance sites and magazines and read the small print so you really understand what you might be getting into.
5) CreditExpert can help match you to products that may suit your circumstances, based on your Experian Credit Score. It could save you time and trouble and may help to ensure you get the deal you are looking for.
1) Take a leaf out of your grandparents' book - get up and move around, take an evening class or go to the leisure centre at weekends (someone else foots the heating and water bill there), put on an extra jumper, take a hot bottle to bed. It all warms you up.
2) Heat and light only the rooms you're using - turn thermostats down and lights off when you move from kitchen to living room and from living room to bedroom. Lighting alone accounts for around eight per cent of energy bills, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
3) Don't assume that the deals you have now will always be the best ones. Company policy and your circumstances can change, so it pays to keep on top of the latest offers and news.
4) Check your credit report regularly to be sure it's up to date and accurate - ready for you to take advantage of any special offers.