We may be spending less on days out, eating out and, well, anything that includes the word “out” but there’s one thing that’s not getting any cheaper during lockdown – our energy bills.
Working from home, heating our homes far more, entertaining kids with screens and devices, cooking all our meals at home – not to mention all the baking (check social media, it’s quite literally the Great British Bake Off just now).
But our energy bills may not be the first thing we think about. Cordelia Samson, energy spokesperson at Uswitch.com, says: “This is a hugely unsettling time for everyone, with many people staying at home who don’t normally, and some having to juggle looking after children at the same time.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
“People will be thinking about vulnerable friends and relatives, so the last thing on their minds will be their energy bill.
“The amount of extra energy households use will vary from home to home, but assuming a household with medium annual usage is at home for an extra 50 hours per week, we’ve estimated that they will probably use around 25 per cent more electricity and 17 per cent more gas right now.”
Energy firms aim to balance bills over a year rather than month by month, to smooth out bills for households rather than charge far more during the winter season.
That means there may not be a wake-up call bill next month but that doesn’t mean people won’t be paying far more for their spring energy than they normally would, eventually hiking their monthly payments.
So how can you keep the bills down without losing the few things you can still do? Here are some ideas.
Don’t get caught out
OK, this first one isn’t so much a tip for saving money but rather it’s a tip for avoiding an unpleasant surprise.
Your energy bills are likely to rise if you’re at home more no matter what you do to keep that increase as low as possible.
So it’s vital you regularly check your meter and submit readings to your supplier. That will mean your bills immediately reflect your increase use and you don’t end up owing a substantial and unexpected amount.
Consider your cooking
If you’re at home then you’re probably cooking more – lots of us are turning to comfort food just now. But your kitchen habits can make a big difference in how much energy your home uses up.
Joe Richardson, UK general manager at green energy company Bulb, has some suggestions.
“Cooking one big meal instead of lots of little ones will save energy and cut down on the washing up.
“Let your leftovers cool down properly before you store them. Warm food raises the temperature of a fridge so it has to work hard to cool itself down again.
“Using the right size lid and the right size hob for your pots and pans reduces the time and energy it takes to heat your food.”
Switch suppliers (you’ve run out of reasons not to)
The difference between the cheapest energy deal and the priciest can be hundreds of pounds a year so switching providers can save you a lot of money.
We are terrible at switching, despite it being really very easy to do so.
But right now many of us have to stay home and that means there’s really no excuse. Even people who are still working from home could be saving some time because they are not commuting or spending evenings out.
So spend just a few minutes of your lockdown comparing and switching energy providers. It could save hundreds of pounds and more than offset any increase in usage.
Reclaim your work energy use
Yes you may be saving on commuting costs but that doesn’t mean working from home won’t add to your bills. Are you charging your work mobile? Have you powered up a desktop or laptop for work eight hours a day?
That is costing you money and you can ask your boss to help with that.
James Longley, managing director at UtilityBidder.co.uk, says: “Remote workers could be able to claim back £4 per week or £18 per month from their employer to cover any gas or electricity costs that are used for business purposes.”
The amount a business can pay employees for their energy use tax-free rises to £6 a week from April.
If your employer doesn’t agree to reimburse you the cost of your homeworking then you may be able to get some relief from the tax office.
You can find out more and fill out a P87 form here.
Change your habits
This lockdown could be a good chance to build some good energy habits.
By treating energy as a resource to be managed and by considering how you can save small amounts of energy in everyday life, it’s possible to build up quite significant savings.
Things like turning the thermostat down, getting into the habit of turning off lights when the room is empty, washing clothes at a lower temperature and avoiding using a tumble dryer if you can hang up clothes. All these things can save energy and reduce your bills.
You can find other great tips for better energy habits via the Energy Saving Trust.
Check your phantom load
It sounds like a Marvel character but the phantom load could be a super villain for your energy bills.
Steve Buckley, head of data science at home energy assistant Loop, says: “Take a moment to switch off any devices that are running unnecessarily, such as desktop monitors or unused fridges or freezers.
“This background electricity use is known as ‘phantom load’, because of the way in which energy is invisibly drained without users necessarily knowing about it.
“Analysis of Loop data found the average UK household wastes an average of £140 unnecessarily through their phantom load every year, while in some homes this could be as much as £450.”