Wednesday, 1 October 2014

NED News Adviceline: Autumn 2014

I use heating oil to power my home, but I’m struggling to cover the cost. It’s hard for me to cut my energy use to save money, as my daughter’s asthma gets worse if I turn the heating down too low. Is there anything I can do to cut my bills?

Households who use heating oil often struggle to cut their costs as they don’t have the same ability to shop around as those who are on grid. But there is action that you can take to cut costs and save money, without having to turn down the heating.

Stocking up on oil now, before temperatures start to drop, can help you to avoid the high costs of buying during the winter. The cost of oil is usually at its highest in December, January and February, as extra demand can push up the cost. Make sure you shop around for the best price and ask suppliers about flexible payment options if you struggle to pay the whole cost up front.

Joining an oil club is also a great way of saving money as you can often get a better price by clubbing together with others and buying in bulk. This will also cut down the number of trips the oil supplier needs to make, which could reduce delivery costs and is better for the environment.

To see if there’s an oil club in your local area, put your postcode into the oil club map at

It’s also worth checking whether there are any grants or discounts you are entitled to. A quick call to the Energy Savings Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 will help you get to the bottom of that.

My broadband connection is really slow and unreliable. I’ve contacted my provider who has said I’ll need to pay more than £100 to cancel the contract. Is there anything I can do about this?

One of the main ways that you can get yourself a better broadband service is to switch supplier. It’s become much easier to switch broadband providers in recent years, which in turn has led to better deals for consumers. But, as you have experienced, some companies charge cancellation fees that can go into hundreds of pounds.

Most broadband contracts operate for a fixed term (12 or 18 months, for example), and users can be charged for prematurely ending the contract. It is therefore important to check the terms of your contract before entering the switching process.

If you are looking to move to another company because you are having problems with your broadband service, make sure you tell them about the problems. Record dates and times of the issues you have had, so you have evidence that shows why you’re ending the contract and switching. If you have already complained about these problems it is worth reminding the firm of that fact.

Anyone who has come up against poor quality service or unfair charges from their broadband provider or any other business, can get in touch with our Consumer Service helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or come and see us at your nearest bureau.

HMRC has just contacted me to say that I owe them money as they have overpaid my Tax Credits. I didn’t realise that this could happen, and I don’t have enough money set aside to pay them back. What should I do?

Tax Credits are designed to give working people a little bit of extra income to help guarantee a decent standard of living from work.

Unfortunately, the system by which entitlement to Tax Credits is decided is complicated and can often lead to people falling into debt when they are asked to repay money they’ve wrongly been given by HMRC.

Tax Credits are gradually being phased into the Government’s new Universal Credit system, which is intended to reduce Credit miscalculations and overpayments.

However whilst we wait for the system to change, problems with the current process seem to be getting worse. Last year, Citizens Advice across England and Wales saw a 14 per cent increase in problems relating to debt caused by Tax Credit overpayments.

The combination of pressures on people’s living costs means that being asked to repay Tax Credits at the end of the year can be a real blow. Sky-high energy bills, expensive childcare and wages which are still failing to keep up with costs mean that it can be a real struggle for households make ends meet. The last thing hard-pressed households need is for HMRC to put them in more debt.

Often, HMRC will be willing to work with you to see what you can afford to pay back, but in many cases, poor communication and delays by the agency have led to our clients struggling to get a fair outcome.

If you’re struggling with debt then it’s important to take steps to get on top of your bills. Debt can seem impossible but there’s always a way out of problems.

If you come to us, we will be able to work out a debt management plan with free and impartial advice.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

NED News Adviceline: Spring 2014

OFGEM recently announced that finding a better deal on your energy is getting easier. What does that mean for my energy bills?

A ban on complex tariffs is now in force, to help consumers get the best deals claims the energy regulator. In the biggest shake up to the market since competition was introduced in the late nineties, the reforms aim to make the energy market simpler, clearer and fairer. Households who have never switched could save more than £200 per year.

The reforms

Suppliers can now only offer customers a maximum of four tariffs for gas and four for electricity, this means that some existing tariffs will be withdrawn. These changes make it far easier for consumers to compare and find the best deals. Complex deals like charging high rates for energy which then fall as more is used will no longer be allowed.

Energy firms must structure their tariffs in two tiers, as a single unit rate and a standing charge. The unit rate is the cost for each unit of electricity or gas, the standing charge is a fixed amount and is a way to recover the costs of getting the gas and electricity to your home. Suppliers will be allowed to set their standing charge at zero. Lower standing charges can benefit people who do not use a lot of gas or electricity, higher standing charges benefit people who use more. We expect that suppliers will offer different combinations, so shop around to make sure you get the best deal for you.

Customers on fixed term deals will remain on that tariff until it finishes – increasing those prices during the contract period is now banned and automatically rolling householders on to another fixed-term offer will no longer be allowed. At this end point, suppliers should automatically put you on the cheapest standard tariff available and it’s worth shopping around to check this is the best deal.

If you have a standard tariff, which is a continuing deal that doesn’t have a fixed end date, you will be contacted by your supplier if the terms and conditions are changing. If the tariff is withdrawn you will be moved to their cheapest equivalent by the summer. This is also the case for special tariffs, for example deals for pensioners, though your supplier may choose to retain this as one of their four tariffs.

April will see further reforms to give consumers clearer, more personalised information on energy. Suppliers will for the first time have to write to customers regularly informing them which of their tariffs is cheapest.

The Citizens Advice consumer service can provide general advice about what the reforms mean. If you have a question about what will be happening to your gas and electricity tariffs and when, contact your supplier. You can find out more about tariffs and how to compare prices for gas and electricity from Adviceguide, the self-help website of Citizens Advice.

For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Adviceguide website or contact your nearest bureau.

My energy supplier has announced price rises. I want to find out if I can get a better deal elsewhere, but I don’t know where to start.

If your energy prices have shot up, you can find out if you can get a cheaper deal elsewhere by switching supplier. You can use a price comparison site approved by Ofgem, or get help from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Energy suppliers must give you at least 30 days notice of any price increases, so act fast to make changes before the increases come in. If you decide to switch suppliers, you need start the switching process within 20 days of being told about a price increase, that way your existing supplier can’t enforce the price rise.

Under new rules, if you’re on a fixed term contract and it’s coming to an end, your supplier must tell you between 42 and 49 days beforehand so, if you want to, you can switch suppliers during this time without any penalties.

And if you are on a fixed term contract signed on or after 15th July 2013, suppliers can’t increase prices, unless the price increase was agreed in advance – for example with a tracker tariff. If your supplier breaks these rules you can complain, first to the energy supplier, then to the Energy Ombudsman.

For the most up-to-date advice, please visit the Adviceguide website or contact your nearest bureau.