Keep costs down with winter checklist

Now's the time to ensure you're set up for winter to keep costs down and the heat up.
Now's the time to ensure you're set up for winter to keep costs down and the heat up.
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Brrrr...The mercury has started to tumble, summer’s warmth seems a distant memory and the central heating is starting to kick into gear. 

As it’ll only get colder, now’s the time to ensure you’re set up for winter to keep the cost down and the heat up. Here’s my checklist:

Find out where your stopcock is. Everyone should know where their mains water off switch is. Frozen pipe bursts create an average £7,000 of damage, made worse if you can’t find the off switch as your home floods. 

As Angie wrote on my Facebook page: “I know where mine is but only due to a burst pipe and collapsed floor a few years ago. Took us & the council 2hrs to find.”

So find it now before you’ve problems. Mine is behind a kitchen cupboard, but you’ll also typically find yours in bathrooms, shared corridors in flats, boiler cupboards and more. To help locate yours there’s a nice Thames Water video at www.mse.me/stopcock.

Switch energy now and you could get £100s back. This is a great time to switch energy supplier if you pay by direct debit, as it’s likely you’re in credit after the low use summer months. Therefore switch now, and provided you ask for it – so ask - you’ll likely be given cash too (switch after winter and you may be in debt).

Now I’m not saying spend this cash, just put it toward future bills, BUT it means that switching won’t cause any cash flow issues. John tweeted me to say just how easy it is: “Just switched from Scottish Power to First Utility - in credit to the tune of £151. Cheque sent within days of my contract ending.”

‘Save £226 in 5min 10 second energy switch’. It can take two months to change to a new supplier, so do it ASAP so you’ve the cheaper price in time for the cold spell. 

Yet while the switch-over takes time, the work to compare and activate a switch doesn’t. For fun, I put a stopwatch on four new members of my team trying to compare and switch - the quickest took 202 seconds, the longest 376 seconds. The average was 310 seconds with a £226 saving. 

When comparing you may’ve heard of the recent scandal about ‘hiding top deals’ on some comparison sites. This is true – though my own www.cheapenergyclub.co.uk always shows all tariffs. Yet it means if you are using a different www.ofgem.gov.uk approved comparison site, when you get to the “Do you only want to see tariffs you can switch to today” question – say ‘no’ – that way all will display. 

Switching isn’t a big deal, it’s the same pipes, gas, meter and safety scheme - the only difference is price and customer service. You can do it even if you’re on a prepayment meter/ electricity only/ Eco 7.

Paying energy by monthly direct debit is cheaper. It discounts your bill by up to six per cent. Firms then estimate your annual usage and divide it by 12 so you’re likely to build up credit after summer and be a little in debt after winter. Always do regular meter readings for accuracy, as your bill is estimated. And if they try to push your direct debit up unfairly (eg, you’re heavily in credit) you’ve a right for it to be fair, just call and ask for it to be lowered.

Full service car breakdown cover £40. Breakdown is more likely at winter, and the consequences more severe. Yet policies can be very cheap. 

For breakdown, home start and onward travel www.autoaidbreakdown.co.uk is £40 a year, though it’s a ‘pay and claim’ policy so here it sends a local pick-up truck that you have to pay, then you can reclaim the cash later. Feedback and call out times are good, though you need to remember to claim. 

If you’ve got cover and are at renewal, then HAGGLE - 90 per cent of AA customers and 78 per cent with the RAC lowered their rates by bartering. For more deals see www.mse.me/breakdown.

Free loft/cavity wall insulation, open-to-all. Energy firms get fined if they don’t meet Eco quotas, so some give free insulation. www.britishgas.co.uk free insulation allows ANYONE in England, Scotland or Wales with a suitable home to get it (ie, you don’t have to be its customer or on a low income). The Energy Saving Trust estimates you’ll see a reduction in bills of £290/yr compared with a typical uninsulated home.

Cut boiler costs by £100s - you don’t need your energy firm’s cover. Many energy firms use our fear of losing heating to charge hefty insurance costs. They also want us to think there’s some link between our energy provider and our boiler cover. There isn’t - you’re not locked in. In short:

a) Renters usually don’t need it, as their landlord’s likely responsible. Check.
b) Ensure you know what cover you need, choose between boiler-only, or central heating cover. 
c) To find the cheapest compare via www.uswitch.com and if you have more time add www.energyhelpline.com and www.moneysupermarket.com for a wider comparison.

More help in www.mse.me/boilercover

Are you entitled to any extra winter help. Winter is a tough time for many as the cold sets in. Therefore there are some funds which may help...

a) Winter fuel payments. If anyone in your house was born on or before July 6, 1952 and gets a state pension, pension credit or jobseekers allowance you automatically get the up to £300 winter fuel payment (providing you met this qualifying criteria by September 21, 2014). Some on other benefits may be eligible too, but will need to claim if new to it. 

b) Cold weather payments. Anyone on specific income support/jobseeker’s allowance/pension credit gets £25 for every seven days it’s sub-zero. It’s paid automatically from November 1 this year. 

c) Choosing between heating and eating? If you’re seriously behind, or in general financial hardship, you may be eligible for special tariffs/help. Try the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.

Free month’s Vitamin D for kids

Get a free 30-day supply of Vitamin D chewable tablets for kids at Asda Pharmacy. No voucher needed, just ask at one of Asda’s 255 pharmacies before Monday, January 12 2015 to get your freebie www.asda.com.

Free Krispy Kreme doughnut

‘Like’ the Krispy Kreme UK Facebook page and enter your details to get a free original glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut worth £1.35-£1.75 www.facebook.com/krispykremeUK.