Friday, 25 November 2011

Ten money-saving tips for winter

1. It's NOT cheaper to leave heating on all day. The Energy Saving Trust says it's better to switch on for just an hour before you wake up and arrive home.

2. Anyone can get £300 of cavity wall and loft insulation FREE. This can cut your energy bill by £200 a year. EDF and Tesco Home Efficiency are offering the freebie even if you are not their customer, so long as you have a suitable home. British Gas also have a similar deal for their customers.

3. Find your stopcock and check how to turn it off. Damage from water when burst frozen pipes thaw can cost £25,000. If you go away, drain the water system or leave the heating on a little each day.

4. Switch your gas and electricity tariffs. It's the perfect time to shop around and you could even offset the past year's hikes. Switching takes up to six weeks, so act now. Use a comparison site approved by Or go to for a top deal PLUS £30 cashback.

5. Claim your winter fuel payments. Households with someone born before January 6, 1951, are entitled to up to £200 tax-free (£300 for the over-80s). If you have never claimed before, register on 0845 915 1515.

6. Pre-payment meter users can save too. Ask to convert to a "credit meter", where you are billed. It works out cheaper. Some providers do this for free.
If not, or it's unaffordable, you can compare and switch tariffs and, when switching, see if your new supplier will let you switch to a credit meter for free. See

7. Slash £100 a year off your boiler insurance. Don't always stay with your energy provider's cover, see comparison sites, and — and check out those missed, including Npower's Hometeam 50 and Eon.

8. Chuck on another jumper. It's cheaper than turning up the heat — even adding just one degree can cost £60 a year. Full draught-proofing also helps, saving about £55 a year.

9. A monthly direct debit can save £100 a year. But do regular meter readings to keep your payment accurate.

10. Switch your nan's tariff! Many elderly people overpay. With their consent, sit down and compare prices for them — it could save them hundreds a year

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Thursday, 24 November 2011

British Gas has said it is simplifying its tariffs

Earlier this year, the regulator Ofgem told energy companies they must offer simpler tariffs.

Following a comprehensive review of the UK energy market sparked by claims that energy companies were making excessive profits, Ofgem said suppliers needed to change the way they operated by next year.

Ofgem welcomed the move, saying that British Gas had recognised that suppliers need an "open and honest dialogue" with their customers.

It said it would examine the company's proposals in detail to see how far they met its own objectives to simplify tariffs.

Earlier this week, E.On announced it had "pressed the reset button" on its relationship with customers, while other major energy suppliers have said they are working towards simplifying their tariffs.

"As part of urgently restoring confidence we are calling on all suppliers to get behind Ofgem's reforms to deliver what consumers tell us they want - a simpler, more competitive energy market," said Ian Marlee, of Ofgem.

"Without the decisive break with the past that Ofgem's reforms offer consumers will continue to mistrust energy suppliers."
'Complete breakdown'

Mr Bentley told the BBC's Newsnight that British Gas was making the changes because its customers had said they did not like the current pricing structures.
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“Start Quote

It is clear that we need to make things better for our customers”

Phil Bentley Managing director, British Gas

How to read your bill
How to switch suppliers

"We are very conscious of our social responsibility," he said.

He said bills were going up in part due to increasing transport costs and green levies.

He also admitted that British Gas had offered cheap deals at a loss to the company in order to attract customers because they would be at the top of price comparison tables. The company would no longer be doing this, he said.

"It is not right if we are charging honest customers more [to fund these deals]," he said.

The supplier is sending a letter to all its customers explaining its new policy, in which Mr Bentley says: "It is clear that we need to make things better for our customers. To make sure we do that, I am committed to having an honest conversation with [them]."

As well as offering just two tariffs, the supplier said that, from this month, it will include a "complete breakdown" of all the costs that make up its customers' bills.

Earlier this week, British Gas announced it had secured a £13bn gas supply contract with Norway's Statoil designed to help insulate customers from volatility in global gas prices.

Hundreds of tariffs

Watchdog Consumer Focus said there had been 70 new tariffs launched this year by energy companies, bringing the total to about 400. It said that simplifying tariffs would not have a direct effect on prices.
Gas ring The regulator Ofgem has told energy companies to make their tariffs simpler

"Energy is a simple product, it should also be a simple market. Reducing the number and complexity of tariffs will not bring prices down by itself, but it will help people understand their energy costs and get the best deal available," said Adam Scorer, of Consumer Focus.

Energy company E.On said its own review would take six months to complete, and would look at tariffs, bills, customer support and how it sells its products.

Ofgem has said that it wants to see one standard tariff per fuel per payment option - such as by direct debit, prepayment meter, or cash or cheque.

It said fixed-term contracts would also be allowed, where the price would be unchanged or track a particular index.

As well as calling for simpler tariffs following its review, the regulator said that it had found evidence the so-called big six energy firms had increased their prices in response to rising costs more quickly than they had lowered them in response to costs falling.

The suppliers, it said, should face more competition.

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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Keep Showers Short

A survey, using innovative technology, has offered an insight into people's showering habits.

The average shower lasted eight minutes - much longer than previous studies suggested, using almost as much water and energy as the average bath.

The information was compiled from "data loggers" that recorded 2,600 showers by 100 families over a 10-day period.

The survey was carried out by producer Unilever, which wanted to find out how people were using their products.

According to the data, an eight-minute shower used 62 litres of hot water, compared with an average bath's 80 litres.
And, it suggested, that if people were using a power shower - an appliance that adds extra pressure to the water flow - then an eight-minute shower would require twice as much water and energy as a bath.

"Most people have now got the message that, generally, taking a shower is more environmentally friendly than a bath, but what this research shows is this is not necessarily the case," she told BBC News.

Dr Owen, who produced "eco action trump" cards to help people understand the environmental and economic impact of everyday activities, said that she recommended that people took four-minute showers.

"People always consider the running costs of cars and phones, but no-one considers the running costs of everyday appliances such as showers, washing machines and TVs."

The survey suggested that taking eight-minutes showers would cost an average UK family £416 a year; using a power shower would see the annual bill soar to £918.

"Water companies often give away timers that help you limit your time in the shower and attachments are available to fix to your shower head that will reduce the flow but not the bathing experience," she explained.

"If you are partial to singing in the shower, pick a short pop classic to shower to; and when lathering up think about turning the flow off until you are ready to rinse."

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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Backlash grows over Cameron's green sell-out

David Cameron today faces a revolt of business leaders, councils, environment campaigners and unions furious at his decision to cut funding for household solar energy, severely undermining his claim that the coalition would be the "greenest government ever".

The funding for households who feed excess electricity generated by their solar panels into the national grid is to be cut from 43p to 21p per kilowatt hour (kwh) from next month, doubling the length of time people would have to wait before their solar panels became economically viable.

The feed-in tariff scheme is one of the most popular environmental measures introduced by any government. It has already been adopted by 100,000 private and housing association homes, and was championed by David Cameron within weeks of him becoming Conservative leader.

Yet last month ministers announced that, from 12 December, the subsidies would be cut in half, despite claims they were consulting on the plan.

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solar panels feed-in tariff halved

Householders who are in the process of having solar panels put on their roof have six weeks to complete the job or face seeing the predicted income they generate slashed after the government said it was cutting feed-in tariffs by 50%.

Despite pledging to be "the greenest government ever", the Tory-led coalition last week shocked the renewables sector by announcing that only installations completed by 12 December would get the full payments they were promised. Hundreds of householders who had signed contracts to have panels fitted have now pulled out and others are expected to follow.

More worrying, say installers, is a proposal to make future feed-in tariff (Fit) payments dependent on the home meeting tough energy performance standards. Around 85% of UK homes would need to spend around £5,600 to meet the requirements. Such a move, which is subject to the consultation exercise announced by ministers, would kill the solar industry, insiders say.

The much-trailed decision to halve the Fits – the amounts those installing photovoltaic panels on their roof get for each unit of electricity generated – sent the solar industry rushing for its calculators in a bid to work out whether solar panels will still be worth installing. It looks as though all but the most committed environmentalists will decide it is not worth the hassle.

Under the original scheme, householders had been promised the higher Fit payments provided they installed their panels before 1 April 2012. Since the scheme's introduction in 2010, around 100,000 householders have taken advantage of the generous terms.

So what do the changes mean?

• The feed-in tariff payable on installations of up to 4kW used to attract a generation rate of 43.3p per kWh. This will be reduced to a proposed 21p for all installations with an eligibility date on or after 12 December – unless the government relents voluntarily, or is forced to by a legal challenge. This slashes their viability; the financial return on the investment falls from around 12% to 5%-7%.

• If you are in the middle of an installation, you need to have it completed and registered with your power company by 12 December. If your supplier won't play ball and demands paperwork by 5 December (as some reportedly have), switch to Good Energy, which says it is planning to take registrations right up to the deadline.

• If you complete your installation between 12 December and 1 April, you will get the new Fit of 21p, but won't have to conform to any energy efficiency measures.

• Perhaps the biggest change, and the one that has attracted the least publicity, is the plan to make the payment of Fits dependent on other energy efficiency measures. Ministers have indicated they want only homes that have an energy performance certificate rating of C or better, ruling out many homes, as it will be prohibitively expensive. Most pre-1919 homes require the installation of some or all of the following measures: loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, heating controls, hot water cylinder insulation, replacement boiler and solid wall insulation – at a typical cost of £5,600.

Critics say that for the hardest-to-heat houses, solar PV is a practical way of reducing carbon emissions, and probably much less disruptive than solid wall insulation.

• The proposals are also expected to put an end to free solar installations (often called "rent-a-roof" schemes) through a new multi-installation rate – where an individual or company receives Fits from more than one installation. They will get just 16.8p per kWh for systems up to 4kW, a rate which the chief executive of HomeSun says makes the business no longer worth pursuing.

Friends of the Earth's energy campaigner Donna Hume says the changes have cast a shadow over the UK's thriving solar industry. "The government should be encouraging more people, not fewer, to save money by making their own electricity, freeing us from the stranglehold of the big six energy firms which are pushing up our bills."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change says it is consulting on proposed new tariffs to protect consumers from footing the bill for excessive subsidies: "The government stands by its pledge to be the greenest government ever. We are taking action to ensure that the Fits scheme stays within budget, and to put the solar industry on a steadier, clearer and sustainable growth path, avoiding boom and bust.

In 2010, anyone spending the typical £13,000 to fit an average sized (2.5kW) system would receive around £900 a year in payments, on top of a £140-a-year saving in reduced electricity bills. Feed-in tariffs are paid for 25 years, tax-free, and rise in line with inflation. To really make it work, you had to plan to stay in your home for at least 15 years. The price of installations has fallen by 20%, which is why the industry expected a cut to Fits from next April.

Gabriel Wondrausch, the man behind one of Britain's longest established installers, SunGift Solar, says investors will be still able to get an average 5%-7% return under the new rules. He says that by switching to cheaper Chinese panels (rather than the better European ones he favours), it is possible to make a decent-ish return. His estimates beat the government's claim that the return is now 4.5%.

However, he predicts the changes will lead to a return to pre-Fits days, which saw only the keenest "greens" making the investment – particularly if the government goes ahead with its plan to impose the energy performance requirement, which will rule out most potential buyers if they have to spend £5,000 on a new boiler and other measures.

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