How can I save money as the cost of living soars and what should I do if I cannot pay my bills?
By ITV News Content Producer Alex Binley
The cost of living is soaring across the UK and it's only going to get worse as we're all hit by a raft of bill increases as the new financial year begins in April.
From soaring energy and fuel bills, to an increase in National Insurance and council tax payments, prices are set to increase dramatically over the next few days and weeks.
So, how can you save money and what should you do if you really can't pay your bills?
Of all the price rises hitting at the start of April, the energy bill increase is by far the largest.
The energy price cap rose by 54% from April 1, affecting around 22 million customers.People paying default tariffs by direct debit will see an increase of £693 from £1,277 to £1,971 per year, while prepayment customers will see an increase of £708 from £1,309 to £2,017.
There are fears the energy price cap could rise even further in October, as oil and gas prices continue to surge.
Adam French a consumer rights expert from Which? advised people took "a meter reading as soon as possible," and took a photo of it.
Thursday was the last day before the energy price cap increases on Friday, so bills up to and including Thursday will be calculated at the cheaper rate.
Listen to the ITV News, What You Need To Know podcast. In the latest episode, Consumer Editor Chris Choi walks you through all the big April price rises and where to go to get help
When bills do increase, Mr French offered a number of tips and investments which can save homeowners money in the long run.
Getting loft insulation or cavity wall insulation (where appropriate), draught-proofing your home and getting solar panels could save the average householder in the long run but there are significant set up costs, even when grants are available, Mr French said.
The Energy Saving Trust has calculated the average home could save in a year if simple steps are followed:
You can save around £55 a year just by remembering to turn your appliances off standby mode.
Turn your lights off when you’re not using them or when you leave a room. This will save you around £20 a year on your annual energy bills. Replacing all the lights in your home with LED bulbs could help you save even more.
You can save around £28 a year from your energy bill by putting your washing machine on a 30C cycle instead of higher temperatures and by cutting the number of washes you do a week by one.
Avoid using a tumble dryer for your clothes: dry clothes on racks inside where possible or outside in warmer weather to save £60 a year.
Keeping your shower time to just four minutes could save a typical household £70 a year on their energy bills.
Some of us might enjoy a long soak in the bath, but swapping just one bath a week with a four-minute shower could save you £12 a year on your energy bills.
Avoid overfilling the kettle and save yourself £11 a year on your electricity bill.
You could also consider fitting an aerator onto your existing kitchen tap to reduce the amount of water coming out without affecting how it washes or rinses. An aerator is a small gadget with tiny holes – they attach to the spout of taps and are cheap and easy to install – and could save you £25 a year.
Only run your dishwasher when it is full to reduce the amount of water you use. Reducing your dishwasher use by one run per week for a year could save you £14.
Effective insulation of your hot water cylinder is important: even if you have thin spray foam or a loose 25mm jacket, you can benefit from increasing the insulation to a British Standard Jacket 80mm thick, saving £35 a year in the process.
Citizens Advice adds that turning your thermostat down by just 1C can save you around £65 a year. Only lower it to a temperature you feel comfortable at - as a guide, many people find this is between 18-21 degrees.
If you made all of these changes and based on the average calculations given, you could save £395 per year.
Mr French also suggests turning off heaters in any unused rooms and keeping the door to the room closed.
If you've cut costs as much as you can and you're still struggling to pay your bills then "don't bury your head in the sand", Mr French advises.
He suggests anyone unable to pay their energy bills should speak to their provider as the company has a duty of care towards its customers. Energy companies also have hardship funds, access to government support, access to the government's Warms Homes Discount and can help you set up a payment plan.
Citizens Advice adds that your energy company may also offer you a referral for independent debt support or energy efficiency advice. They may also be able to offer you temporary credit for your prepay meter that you’ll need to repay at a later date.
He adds that your energy company may be able to advise if any particular appliance is using lots of energy - for example an inefficient boiler.
Support is also available from the government, with three main schemes to help with energy bills, Citizens Advice says.
Winter Fuel Payment: This is an annual one-off payment to help you pay for heating during the winter. You can usually get a Winter Fuel Payment if you were born on or before September 26, 1955. If you’re eligible, you should get this automatically. However, if you think you’re eligible and have not been receiving it you can contact the Winter Fuel Payment Centre (Telephone: 0800 731 0160 / Textphone: 0800 731 0176)
Household Support Fund: In England, your local council might give you vouchers to help pay for day-to-day essentials. This is known as 'welfare assistance' or the ‘Household Support Fund’. Each council runs their own scheme. The help on offer and who can get it varies. Find your local council at gov.uk and ask them about it. You don’t have to be in receipt of benefits to get this support. If you live in Wales, contact your local authority.
Warm Home Discount: This gives you £140 off your electricity bill if you’re on a low income. If you get the guaranteed element of pension credit, you should get the discount automatically. Check with your supplier to see if they offer the Warm Home Discount because not all of them do.
If you fall behind on payments, there are suppliers that offer grants. Citizens Advice lists suppliers that offer grants as:
If none of these companies supplies your energy, you can still apply for a grant though British Gas Energy Trust as you do not need to be a customer.
Applications can be time consuming. For help, CAB advises to reach out to one of its advisers or to contact Money Helper.
Meanwhile, Simple Energy Advice offers a tool on its website to locate grants available in your specific area.
Council tax bills increased from the beginning of April. The increase in payments varies depending on which local authority you live in and which band your house falls under.
The average Band D council tax set by local authorities in England for 2022/23 is £1,966, up £67 or 3.5% on the previous year.
This includes adult social care and parish precepts, but does not take into account the £150 council tax rebate.
Homes in bands A-D (the majority of houses and flats) are eligible for a rebate of £150 which they will not need to pay back.
If you pay your council tax by direct debit then this will automatically be given back to you, says Mr French, but if you don't he suggests contacting your council to check on the repayment.
If you're still struggling to make your payments after the rebate, he suggests checking you're not eligible for any discounts, eg. students don't need to pay council tax and there are discounts available for people living alone. If you're eligible for money back you'll need to let your council know, they won't automatically do it.
Mr French says you can also challenge your council tax band if you think your payments are too high.
If none of this applies to you or you're still having difficulty making payments, Mr French says you should get in touch with your local authority who may be able to offer extra help.
Listen to our latest What You Need To Know podcast
On top of bills and tax rises, the surge in inflation is also impacting many basic commodities.
One of the main drivers of this is petrol prices, which have risen sharply in the past 12 months and have risen by a fifth since October.
Prices are now hovering around 160p a litre but in the coming days, prices should fall slightly.
Mr French suggests using other methods of transport or lift-sharing to save on fuel costs, but if you have to drive, then do so smoothly he says and get rid of any extra weight from your car. Hard braking and accelerating use more fuel, he says.
He adds that the cheapest petrol and diesel tends to be at supermarket forecourts and that they use the exact same fuel as that found at branded petrol stations.
Mr French said that few cars derive little benefit from premium unleaded petrol which is more expensive.
Interest rates have increased to 0.75% and while this is historically low, it means mortgage payments on variable rates have increased.
If you're struggling to make payments, Mr French suggests talking to your provider and bank who may be able to get you a new deal or allow you to underpay for a short while.
He also suggests looking at your bank statement and assessing your regular outgoings. Are there things you don't need, for example money spent on takeaway hot drinks when travelling, or direct debits for things you rarely use, such as the gym. If you can live without these things, he suggests getting rid of them.
Mr French also suggests looking for a better deal if you're coming to the end of your mortgage deal, or switching if your fixed rate is coming to an end.
"Renters are often in a stronger position than they think," says Mr French.
If you're struggling to make your payments, speak to your landlord he says. If you've been a good tenant, they may be willing to cut your rent in the short-term and a reduced rent is a better deal for them than you moving out and their home sitting empty for a month or two.
He adds that renters don't have to agree to an increase from their landlord and if they do decide to evict you, they must give you at least 30 days notice.
Ultimately though "there is a lack of protection for renters across the board", he says.
Food is also being impacted by the inflation rise, with prices 5.2% higher than they were a year ago. However, this is an average and some staples have increased by significantly more than this.
To save money on your food shops, make a list and stick to it, advises Mr French.
He also suggests swapping branded items for a supermarket's own version. As well as being cheaper, these often perform better in blind taste testing he says, citing the example of Tesco's own brand marmite which out-performed the original.
Mr French says loyalty cards may also offer savings, but cautions that deals advertised in supermarkets may not be the cheapest option.
He also suggests shopping in bigger supermarkets which stock more options, and says that Aldi and Lidl are constantly proven to be the cheapest places to do your shop.
Citizens Advice can refer anyone who is struggling with rising food prices to a food bank, or you can get a referral from an organisation which is already supporting you, for example a charity, school or children's centre.
From April 6, National Insurance (NI) increased by 1.25 percentage points for all taxpayers in the UK.
This was announced in September as part of a health and social care levy aimed at increasing funding for the NHS and care industry.
The amount employers need to contribute to NI will also increase by the same amount which could discourage wage increases.
However, from July nearly 30 million UK workers will have their taxes cut through the rise in the threshold at which NI is paid, while 2.2 million will be taken out of paying national insurance contributions (NIC) altogether.
NI starting thresholds will rise to £12,570 from July, aligning income tax and NI in a tax cut worth more than £6 billion.
On the increase in National Insurance, "there's not a lot you can do" to stop your contributions from rising, says Mr French, but adds that if you're working past the state retirement age of 66 you do not need to pay NI.
Where to get help
If you need support, call Citizens Advice on 0808 223 1133 (or 0808 223 1144 to contact a Welsh-speaking adviser), or visit citizensadvice.org.uk
Another charity called Turn 2 Us also offers support and can help you find any benefits or grants you may qualify for if you need a bit of support with your bills.
If you are struggling to make payments, then contact the company you are making payments to or your council.