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Big Energy Week – bring on your big energy questions

It’s Big Energy Week! A week where organisations, like Which? and the Citizens Advice Bureau, try to help you keep the cost of your energy bills down. So what energy related question would you like to see answered?

What’s the number one financial concern for Brits? Energy bills.

Research from the Citizens Advice Bureau found that more than 40% of us fear we won’t be able to pay our next energy bill. The fact people are so concerned isn’t surprising considering that prices have risen by a whopping 63% between 2000 and 2010.

Tips and tricks to save energy

The main aim of Big Energy Week is to give tips and tricks on how to save money on your bills. So, today we held a live energy Q&A with a panel of experts to do just that. We had a vast array of questions coming in. Here’s some of the highlights:

Laura asked about energy price cuts: I am with an energy company that dropped its prices recently, but I switched to a fixed tariff during the latest round of price hikes. Will I benefit from the cuts?

Charlotte Berry of Which? Switch said: ‘Unfortunately, if you’ve switched to a fixed price tariff then you won’t see your rates lowered as a result of the recent drops. However, since the drops are quite small compared to the rises last year you may still be on the best deal for you.’

Lee asked about Feed-in tariffs: What has happened to grants for solar energy and wind energy, are they still available and worthwhile in today’s energy market?

Sylvia Baron, Which? energy expert, answered: ‘The Feed-in tariff, which pays households for installing renewable energy like wind and solar is still on-going.

‘The rate for wind hasn’t changed yet, but might drop a bit in April. However, the rates for solar panels could be halved under government proposals. This has been challenged in court and the government is now appealing – we’ll know in the next few weeks what the outcome will be.’

Brian asked about cutting bills: Having just been made redundant at 60, what advice can you give to reduce energy bills and make my house more energy efficient?

Doug Malcolm of British Gas answered: ‘My best advice would be to check the insulation levels within your property. By ensuring you have adequate insulation in your loft you can save yourself up to £175 a year on your heating bills. Further to this if you have a property with cavity walls you could have these insulated and save up to £145 a year.

‘There are grants and promotions available throughout the market place which may result in getting either free or discounted insulation depending on your circumstances.’

So, will any of those answers help you cut your energy bills? If not, or you have a specific question you’d like answered, post your energy related questions or concerns below and our experts will get back to you as soon as they can.

stuart smith says:
17 January 2012

can i pay for my gas online when on a prepayment meter , I do for my electric with a machine i plug into my computer. does scottish power have a machine that allows me to put money on my key and save me going to a shop

Hi Stuart, sorry we didn’t get round to this one during the Q&A. Scottish Power don’t currently have an online system for prepayment customers so your only option is to use PayPoint shops and Post Offices I’m afraid.

I could if I wish have a fixed mortgage payment for the life of a mortgage. Why can I not fix my energy payments for my lifetime?

In both cases there is no way of knowing the future so …

BTW, just in case thanks for the Q&A on-line session.

I have an online tariff for electricity and gas and pay by direct debit. This invariably results in me being in credit to the supplier and having to arrange a refund or change in direct debit payment. I am prepared to supply meter readings at any frequency that would suit my supplier in return for accurate billing (and definitely don’t need the help of an expensive smart meter to do this!).

At the moment, if I want to pay for what I use I would have to switch to a more expensive tariff. Others are in credit to their energy suppliers far more than me.

Can something be done about this problem?

Hello Wavechange

Direct debit should be set so that you are in credit in the summer (when you use little gas) and build up enough credit for the more expensive winter months. But it all depends what your DD has been calaculated on. The most accurate method is that based on your last annual consumption. But this is not always practical or accurate, for example if you have just moved house or had big changes made to your house or lifestyle.

If by the end of the winter you are still in credit, you should ask for a refund. Most companies have a policy to refund credit balance automatically. But all have slightly different thresholds. For example British Gas will automatically refund any credit if your account is more than £100 in credit. Check with your supplier.

If an energy company refuses to repay a credit, write a formal letter of complaint and specifically ask them for the legal authority they are relying on in order to retain it (this makes taking the claim further much easier). If you are not happy with the response then you may be able to refer your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman but you only have 9 months in which to do this from the date of the original complaint.

Note that Ovo Energy for example pays 3% interest on any credit balance. This should be an incentive for them not to set your DD to high.

Thanks Sylvia. I understand how the system works (or is supposed to) but your comments could help others.

e.on and their predecessors have always agreed to make a refund or to adjust my direct debit on request, though sometimes it has take a fair amount of discussion. I start grumbling when I am in credit by around £100.

Ovo Energy sounds interesting and I would not mind being in credit to them. 🙂

E-on (powergen) let ours run upto £500+ before I had to ask for a refund. Then again; compared to the last owners of our house, we quickly dealt with the vast amount of Tungsten lights and 24 hours of heating and hot water. They really did appear to struggle with our falling energy usage, still owing us £200+ when we left after 4 years.

I hope British Gas (to which we changed to just before the prices changed) should be better, but I at least know when to ask for any excess back, thanks.

Andrew Gowing says:
18 January 2012

Currently with Npower for both Gas and Electricity and have complained that the number of units charged at the higher rate were to high. Eventually told that Npower does not use the meter reading dates or the date of the bill to calculate the higher rate units. I was advised by e-mail that they use a ‘Bill to Date’ to calculate the higher rates and those dates are not available to the customer. Consequently I am never able to work out what my bill should be even though I send meter readings to Npower monthly. I have complained once to the regulator with no satisfactory response and have asked for a review.

Hi Andrew,

Sorry to hear about this – I’m going to ask npower if they can weigh in on this so we’ll see what they say. In the meantime, I just want to clarify – did you complain to the regulator (Ofgem) or to the Ombudsman (Energy Ombudsman)? Raising an issue with Ofgem can be beneficial, but if you’ve got a particular problem with a company, complaining to the Ombudsman is the best way to go. The website is here: http://www.ombudsman-services.org/energy.html

Hope that helps!

Andy Gowing says:
19 January 2012

The best of luck with Npower, I complained again about higher rate in Dec 2011 and was initially told that they use the meter reading dates to calculate the higher rates. When I explained that wasnt true the next answer, having checked with the manager was that they used ‘bill to dates’ which were
15 June and 14 Dec. I then explained that I had complained earlier that year and had been e-mailed a specific date for each of the 6 bills detailed. Further checks with his manager resulted in me being told that my complaint was the same as a previous complaint and that the company have given me their final position and would not discuss the matter further. I have in fact complained to the Energy Ombudsman and my request for a review has been outstanding since 26 Oct 2011.

Miles Harrison says:
18 January 2012

Hi Chris – can you explain how Fuel Cell Technology fits into the Governments thoughts – the UK leads the world in this Hydrogen/Syngas conversion to Electricity, but this is never mentioned anywhere?

James Drinkwater says:
18 January 2012

The Royal Institute of Bristish Architects has responded to the Green Deal consultation. Read our views on the crucial importance of consumer protection here: http://t.co/6v8SoNi. We would be interested for a Which? take on the points we raise, and the scheme more generally.

James – thanks for your comment, I will read your response with interest and it would be good to identify areas on which we have common ground.

Technicalian says:
18 January 2012

@Miles – as I understand it, energy companies are considering fuel cell technology in a number of ways, one of which is small units in communities or even the home. This moves the point of generation closer to the user, so reduces losses and stress on distribution networks. Also, the energy suppliers might not have to build so many big new power stations! (and pay for buildings, lightings, staff, etc…)

Doesn’t there need to be more focus on investment in new technologies and secure supplies, and incentives for people operating in a more energy efficient way rather than on the cost of fuel? The way the vast majority of people in my experience, heat their home, for example, is probably the single largest cause of high fuel bills.

Isn’t the real issue that if the £11BN was spent on uprating every property in the UK to a level of efficiency then we would have a decent investment, reduction in consumption to heat those properties and a more stable price.

As it is we will spend £11BN (actually on past performance of government IT initiatives £33BN) all of which will go to the utility companies, they must be laughing all the way to the bank!

Far too often I see mention of all the grants available for insulation, but nobody mentions the fact that those of us who live in houses with single brick walls are always ignored, although we are the ones most in need of help to reduce our energy usage. When are we going to see grants for us?

Hello Santorr

Solid walls can be insulated but the cost is quite high: £5,500-£8,500 for internal wall insualtion and £9,400-£13,000 for external wall insulation. The savings though are about £445-£480 a year.

There are no grants currently available under any national schemes for insulation (except for low-income and vulnerable consumers), and, in the current economic climate it is unlikely that the Government is going to introduce any. The current scheme (CERT) which funds discounted or free loft and cavity wall insulation is funded through consumers’ energy bills and it hardly funds any solid wall insulation because it is much more expensive.

But with the Green Deal, due to come in later this year, the Government is planning to move away from this towards a market-based product and use energy bills to help support this, including through subsidy for solid wall insulation. See our Which? Conversation on the new Energy Company Obligation (ECO): https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/eco-scheme-energy-company-obligation-cert-green-deal/ .

I’m reluctant to be polite and say thank you for your comment, since it only repeats the answers I’ve been given far too often, but I’ll repeat a comment I’ve posted on another page – that even cheap or interest free loans would help – what apart twisting the arms of the banks, that, theoretically, we own.

What a shame that we can’t have a ‘feed in tariff’ type scheme for these single wall insulations, though with the above figures we’d be looking at about 15 years before payback.

If the government really is going to keep to its’ green credentials, and not be fined for energy usage/CO2 output, it has to come up with out-of-the-box thinking on these ones. How about a tax led initiative for houses with such issues, for example: you want to install one, HMRC gives you tax relief to help pay for it (like we see with benefits, child care, etc). This would hopefully then open the scope for lower tax/non tax home owners to get direct help with such initiatives as money won’t be spent on those who could afford it (when spread over time, but not 15 years!)