Donegal Daily has teamed up with MABS, the State-funded Money Advice and Budgeting Service, to bring you a monthly column which will offer advice and information on a range of money-related and budgeting topics.
In this MABS Money Box edition, Edel Mhic Amhlaidh will examine ways of reducing your fuel and electricity bills, implementing savings on your energy spend in the long run and keeping a handle on your arrears.
Edel Mhic Amhlaidh is a Dedicated Mortgage Arrears Adviser (DMA) with North Connacht & Ulster MABS. DMAs provide a high level of independent, expert advice to people in difficulty with their mortgage arrears under the Abhaile Scheme
Electricity and other forms of energy are all over the news these days as we are confronted with speculation about increased energy bills and possible blackouts. Modern living means we depend on our energy sources for almost everything we do in our households. However, increased reliance on technology means increased energy bills. In MABS we frequently get contacted by people who have fallen behind in the payment of their utility bills which can lead to arrears spiralling and for some, disconnection notices being received.
Everyday Tips for Reducing Household Energy Costs
The following are a number of ideas that you can add to your routine, helping you develop energy and money-saving habits
In the Kitchen
- When making a cuppa, only put as much water in the kettle as you need. If you are making tea for one, there is no need to fill the kettle up. Try not to keep pressing the kettle switch back on: when the water boils, make the tea or the coffee.
- When cooking, always put a lid on the pot as it will use less energy to bring to the boil and it will boil faster.
- Use the microwave to reheat food instead of the oven. The microwave is much more energy-efficient and takes a lot less time.
- When using the oven to cook, resist the urge to keep opening the door to check on the food as heat will escape and the oven will have to use up more energy to heat to the same level again
- Wash full loads in the washing machine and dishwasher. Half loads waste energy even if your machine has a half-load setting. Also opt for lower temperature washes on your washing machine when you can.
- Hang your clothes up to dry. Tumble dryers tend to be very energy-hungry, so hanging your clothes on a line or drying rack will save you energy.
- Defrost your fridge and freezer regularly as this helps to save energy.
Around the House
- Replace your halogen lightbulbs with LED bulbs. For most people, lighting accounts for around 11% of your electricity bills and switching your halogen light bulbs to energy efficient LEDs can cut those lighting costs by up to 80%. While LED bulbs are more expensive to buy, the average LED bulb will last up to ten times longer than a Halogen bulb.
- Understand your heating system and its controls. Some houses will have ‘zones’ that will mean that you have greater control over how your home is heated. If you don’t have zoned control of the heating in your house, then make sure to turn off the heating in the rooms you don’t use.
- Use a hot water bottle to heat the bed.
- Dress for the weather. Just because we have central heating doesn’t mean we should be walking around the house in short sleeves. Put on a jumper or cosy up with a blanket on the couch
- Be sure to close the windows when the central heating is on, which will reduce waste. If your house is too warm, turn down your thermostat. Use the timer instead of having the heating on constant
- Ensure curtains and furniture are not too close to the radiator. Furniture will block the radiators heating the room. Curtains will push the heat up and out through the window.
- Keep your curtains closed at night to conserve heat. Doing this in empty rooms or rooms that you don’t use often will reduce the heating bill.
- Take shorter showers to save hot water. Having a shower instead of a bath will result in the use of less hot water and less expense
- Unplug unused mobile phone chargers and any other electronics or appliances when you do not need them, for example, before going to bed every night. Tell your children why you’re doing it.
- You can find more tips for reducing your energy use and your bills from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland
Check your Bills and Shop Around
- Examine your bills thoroughly to understand how much energy you are using, your highest usage times etc. This should assist you in implementing changes to your habits. For example some people have tariffs where there electricity is cheaper at night which means for them doing laundry, taking showers and turning on the dishwasher in the evenings makes economic sense
- Compare all the available energy prices and plans on the market. Before 2011 the only domestic electricity provider in Ireland was Electric Ireland (or ESB then). Consumers can now choose from a multitude of energy suppliers and most regularly have special offers, discount codes or cashback promotions. Figures from the CRU show that about 35% of all households in Ireland have never switched energy supplier.
- Most energy contracts are 12 months, so it’s worth it to shop around when your contract is due to end or call your current energy providers to renew your contract to see if you can get a better deal as otherwise you will automatically be put on your supplier’s standard rates.
- Make sure you are on the best deal you can get using this price comparison tool from ie
Taking Control of your Energy Bills
- Get organised. Get a folder and keep your bills in it and keep track of when they need to be paid. If you get your bills online, put them into a separate file on your computer.
- Make a payment schedule to pay all of your utility bills so that the costs are evenly spread out. Try to avoid paying a number of bills at the same time, as this could leave you short of money for that week or month.
- You can ask your energy supplier to change a bill’s due date if it would be easier for you to pay at a different time of the month.
- Most energy providers have budget plans that let you spread your payments over the year. This option is usually only available if you pay by direct debit.
- Use the MABS My Budget tool to help you plan your bill payments
Paying your Bills
- Direct Debit is a direct payment from your bank account. Some companies will give you a discount for paying by direct debit. Watch out for setting up direct debits too close to the payment date in case of payment or banking delays!
- BillPay allows you to choose how you want to pay your bill at your local Post Office or online
- ie lets you pay as much or as little off your bill as you like each time (as long as it is within the limits set by the company you’re paying it to). Or you can set up automated payments each month.
- PostPoint is a free service that lets you pay all or part of your main monthly household bills in many shops nationwide. You’ll need a bar-coded bill or payment card to make a payment.
- Payzone is a bill-paying service for household bills and pre-pay utility meter cards. Check for the Payzone sign in shops. The service is free in some stores but not all, so check first.
- Household Budget Scheme is a free service for people who get certain social welfare payments through An Post in your local post office. You can deduct an amount from your total social welfare payment to pay your energy bills
Dealing with Arrears
- If you’re having trouble paying your bills, explain your situation to your supplier as soon as possible. They are more likely to be sympathetic to you if you contact them as soon as you run into trouble with paying your bills.
- The supplier may, with your agreement, arrange for an alternative payment plan to be put in place where you spread out your payments over a longer period. Suppliers must help you if you are in genuine financial difficulty.
- A supplier may suggest getting a pre-pay meter where you use a top-up card or you may opt for a meter yourself even if you are not in arrears with your payments. This is normally a more expensive way to pay for energy but many MABS clients find that a meter enables them to budget better and control their electricity spend.
- Electricity and gas suppliers must make at least 4 attempts to contact you before they disconnect you.
- If you are served with a disconnection notice please contact MABS as soon as is possible via our National Helpline on 0818 07 2000
For advice on any aspect of budgeting or spending, contact MABS – we are here to help
Call the MABS national Helpline on 0818 07 2000, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm. Money Advisers are available and waiting to assist.
MABS is funded and supported by the Citizens Information Board.