Money Mensch: Don't be left out in the cold this winter

By Martin Lewis, November 4, 2010
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It is time to batten up the hatches. Winter is on its way, and if you want to keep the bills as low as the temperature, you need to act now.

That is not a flippant statement: many of the changes you need to keep costs low take time to set up. Those who knee-jerk react once their feet are buried six-inches-deep in snow are likely to lose out.

So follow my checklist below to ensure you are fully prepared for the costly months to come - and hopefully the extra cash in your wallet will keep it insulated.

● Cut £300 off gas and electricity bills before winter comes

While finding a cheaper tariff only takes a couple of minutes, after you sign up it can take over two months for the changeover to take place. So unless you do it now, by the time the high-use winter period comes along, it will be too late.

The vast majority of the UK is overpaying for energy - a home paying £1,200 per year on a standard tariff, would on average drop to £890 a year on the very cheapest tariff. The bigger your home, the bigger the saving.

So, unless you are already on a super-cheap deal, it is time to sort it.

When you switch it is still the same gas, same electricity and same safety. The only real difference is customer service and cost.

You should use a consumer focus-approved comparison company, either by phone (eg, energylinx is 0800 849 7077, energyhelpline is 0800 074 0745) or even better, do it online, as extra cashback can be available.

Go via my website, not direct, to some of the sites and they will give you up to £30 cashback or a crate of wine if they can switch you. See www.moneysavingexpert.com/energy

● Getting boiler cover for just £7 a month

Don't think you need to get your boiler cover from your supplier. It is often available cheaper elsewhere. The easiest way is to use comparison websites such as uSwitch or Energyhelpline to scour the web, though do always check that the cover is suitable. Remember to include Direct Line in your research, as it can be competitive, but is not covered by the comparison sites. It is best to do this online, as you will get a discount.

And do it quickly. If you are going to switch, best to have it up and running before winter - always check whether there is an exclusion policy when switching, such as whether it stops you covering the first year.

● Winter fuel payments for the over sixties.

Any household with someone born before 5 July 1950 qualifies for a tax free payment of £250 or £400 for those over eighty.

If you have received this payment before you don't have to do anything. If you haven't, it is worth calling and filling out a claim form to make sure you get it. The number is 0845 915 1515.

● Free energy saving grants worth £1,000s

There is an enormous amount of cash from charities, companies and government out there to help you make your home more efficient.

Some of it requires you to be on benefits, a lower income or a pensioner. But, even if not, there is still serious quantities of money to help you pay for things. Some can be for amounts in excess of £3,000 - so it is well worth it.

You can find a full breakdown at www.moneysavingexpert.com/energygrants and use the Energy Saving Trust grant finder at www.energysavingtrust.co.uk. Again, speed is of the essence, as it takes time to get a grant and then get things done.

● Get yourself an energy monitor

These gadgets connect to your electricity meter and wirelessly send information to a digital monitor you can put anywhere.

This gives you a rough indication of the cost of the electricity you are using at that moment. I am a huge fan of them as they really do help you save cash.

For example, with my monitor I know the rough standard run rate, so if I am watching the television and I see it is higher, I can usually tell that I have left the lights or oven on and nip in to switch it off. They cost between £20 and £40 and I think it is worth it, but a few energy suppliers offer them free. For example, Npower is currently giving them to any of its customers who sign up to paperless billing.

However don't opt to switch to a particular tariff just because it has an energy meter, as these tend not to be the cheapest tariffs. You will save more by going for the cheapest deal than the monitor costs, so better to buy one yourself.

● Cut your energy use

It is amazing how many people walk around the house in t-shirts with their windows open, complaining it is cold and turning the heating up. It is the obvious thing that saves you money; turn the thermostat down and pop a jumper on. And use draft excluders, thicker curtains or higher-rated duvets. The Energy Saving Trust has a tool that will help you give your house a makeover and change any bad energy habits.

    Last updated: 4:28pm, November 4 2010