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Power to the People

When the government increased what energy companies could charge, most pushed their prices to the max. They also keep thousands in the dark about extra help they’re entitled to. But Quids in! readers can fight back, dialling down costs and claiming what’s ours

When we surveyed Quids in! readers about how money issues were affecting them, half (48%) said they were falling behind with bills. They told us their mental health was under attack so debts like these have to be addressed. Or better still, avoided.

The best advice, before it’s too late,is to keep costs down. Below is the Quids in! Top 5 Tips for keeping those bills in check:

1 Dare to Compare
There are big differences between gas, electric, insurance, broadband and phone providers.
Comparison websites take the legwork out of shopping around. We need to have an idea of what we’d use, like minutes or data when buying a phone, but also energy units for gas and power. Then we can visit a comparison or switching site to do the rest for us. (See our page on comparison sites here.) People who are new to running a home might not know how much they’ll use but consumer champions Which? have a guide to how much it might be.

2 Reduce Usage
Any bills that are metered can usually be minimised by reducing usage. There are hundreds of tips on this online and you could start with the Quids In! energy saving guide here.

3 Direct Debit
Energy companies are really keen to stop people falling behind with their bills. As a result, they often offer discounts or cheaper deals to customers who pay by direct debit. Even people with Basic Bank Accounts or some credit union accounts can benefit from these, as they make automatic monthly payments. They offer peace of mind to us and them. By contrast, pre-payment meters mean higher costs for customers as they are often installed after someone runs up a big debt. They’ve been known to overcharge people taking on a new place and it’s not easy to check how much we’re paying. Demand to get rid, if at all possible.

4 Banking Beware!
Canny budgeters know when their direct debits go out because, after finding the best deals, they don’t want bank charges for going overdrawn. We need to know when payments are going out and do whatever we can to ensure there’s cash in the bank. One way to relax about this is to have an account just for bills, which could be a deposit, budgeting or jam jar account. Jam jars are a good way to describe these accounts because we put into them what we need to cover all our charges in a month and only use them for that. Fill them up as soon as the money comes in and then have the direct debits drain the account throughout the month. Whatever’s left in the main account is what we have to live on.

5 Vulnerable Customers
Suppliers offer additional help to customers who might be at risk. Pensioners, people who are ill, disabled or have additional needs, or families with children under five can ask to be put onto a priority register. Companies should then go the extra mile so we understand our bills and receive notice of any problems with our service. Extra security measures are organised for home visits and a friend or relative can be nominated to talk to them. Gas and electric companies run these but so do water, phone and transport firms. We have to contact them, so call the customer contact number on the bill.

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