#LifeSchool: Dealing with Bills, Fair or Otherwise

I hope all who come here to my little slice of the interwebs are enjoying #LifeSchool, my series on dealing with all crap that life chucks our way which we don’t learn about in school.

This weeks School topic is dealing with bills, be they energy, TV licence or otherwise.

BILLS, BILLS, BILLS

A rather shitty fact of life which will instantly make you feel like a fully signed up member of the Adult majority comes in the form of Bills.

These little quarterly or monthly letters or joy (not) are an inescapable part of life which may fill us with dread. But with the right budgeting, and the know how on loop holes or otherwise, they don’t always need to be.

Unless you wish to go off grid and self sufficient (and if so, good luck to you my eco-friendly little chum), you will receive bills for electricity and gas.

While there’s no real way to get away with it, you can find a great deal online using the many well known comparison websites available. Be aware though, that sometimes getting a good deal can be as simple as phoning your supplier and asking for one.

No, really.

All companies want our ongoing business. It’s now so simple to switch supplier for any utilities, as well as things such as phone lines or broadband, that simply asking to speak to someone in cancellations, or if that’s not available asking to discuss your current deal, can get you money off.

With utilities, if you currently have a dual fuel account- whereby you are powered for both gas and electric from the same provider, you can ask about cheaper deals, such as economy 7.  Its always a good idea to take the time to contact your provider and discuss your needs, they will know what deal is right for you so never be afraid to ask.

Research is always a good idea- does a competitor have a deal running currently which is better than your deal? Make a point of quoting this deal, and ask your provider to match, or even better it. You may be surprised by what you get offered.

NO DEAL ON OFFER? SWITCH!

Most companies now offer very good deals for new customers for a fixed amount of time, and switching may at first seem like a faff, but actually can be quite simple.

With utilities, providing you don’t owe money on your accounts, most companies when you switch handle this for you, and you can carry on paying as before.

As for direct debits, the Switch Guarantee scheme now makes it far simpler than ever before when you need to switch bank accounts on the High Street or online, and, with a simple form, will switch these across for you.

ASKING FOR A DEAL: TIPS FOR GETTING CASH OFF

When speaking to a company and asking for a deal, be polite. If you sound off with them, they wont care if you do leave!

A few months back, my lovely new deal with Sky for TV and broadband was coming to an end. We had been paying a flat, before phone line calls, rate of £27.84 a month, due to Elder having a friend who works for them (there’s a tip- make friends with a Sky fitter!).

We were sent a letter telling us, with a few weeks notice, that our bill would shoot up to just under £60 a month. Eek!

Now, we don’t watch much TV in our house, the kids watch it on weekends in the winter, but Elder and I generally aren’t fussed. Hence, there was no bloody way I was paying that a month.

I rang, and, politely, asked could I speak to someone in cancellations. I was put through, and, explained I was unhappy with the sharp rise, especially with very little notice.

First off, they apologised for the short notice, and then, they began asking me what it would take for me to stay.

Now, be clever, don’t immediately say, well, I’d like X,Y,Z and a small holiday please. Make sure they think you’re off. A lot of call centre folk on these cancellation lines are given feedback, and bonuses for those they get to stay, make them work for it, and get kudos from their boss for bringing you back in.

I said I had seen a much better deal with a competitor, and was happy to switch. At which point I was given an idea of what Sky would offer for me to stay.

They asked me what channels or services we liked, and what we didn’t, and from that, we discussed various options. At first this came to £45 a month, so again, I told them I was off, and then, the magic words were spoken by the lovely guy on the phone- “What do you want to pay?”

In the end, I got a great deal at £30 a month, and only lost the kids channels- which I had locked most of them out or else my pair get lazy and wont do homework, or go and play.I can still record, I can still pause, I still have net (in fact, I got that upgraded) and my phone line was reduced too.

All by being polite and making them believe I would leave.

LOPPHOLES FOR SAVING MONEY

If you aren’t at the end of a contract, there are still ways to save.

Do you claim any form of benefit such as DLA or PIP? If so, you can apply each year for the Warm Home Discount, which gives you an automatic £140 a year off your electric or gas. Its easy to apply, you can find the forms online, or ask your supplier to send you one.

If you still have paper bills, most companies now charge you a fee for this service, so if you can, switch to online bill management services, and that’s money off. The same can be said if you still pay your bills at the Post Office- switching to Direct Debit if possible is cheaper, as the company will charge you what they get charged for handling money at the Post Office.

If you use Pre-Payment meters, these are a nightmare, but if you struggle to pay bills, they may feel like your only option. Not so. If you call your provider, you can ask about pay weekly, fortnightly or monthly schemes, where you pay a fixed amount which is manageable for you towards your bills. This can be done on a card at most Pay Points or Post Office counters, or by Direct Debit.

My biggest bug bear is the TV Licence, but again, this can be paid monthly too in installments. Or, if you don’t watch Live TV, at the moment you don’t actually have to pay for the licence at all, and can simply go to their website and register that you don’t need a licence- although they will, in some cases, check.

BILL INCORRECT? DON’T IGNORE IT!

Like everything, mistakes do happen, and you can and should get these errors, big or small, dealt with.

Start off at the company level, be polite, show why you feel your bill is incorrect, and hopefully, this will be credited to your account.

If it’s not dealt with, and you reach a stalemate, then it’s back to our old friend the Ombudsman Service.

They will ask to see your evidence, what you have done to try and resolve the issue, and why you feel they need to look at the situation again. They can- and have- fined companies previously for cock ups, so its good to know they are on your side, and are free to approach and use.

BUDGET, AND KEEP A RECORD OF WHAT NEEDS PAYING, WHEN

The easiest way to slip into debt is to lose track of what needs to be paid when.

Use your phone calendar and reminder, or a note book, and make sure you know that your outgoings match your incoming. If it doesn’t, don’t ignore it.

The best thing you can do is contact the companies involved and explain your financial situation. Most companies now have a dedicated team to deal with those in Fuel Poverty, or having issues with bills, and may give you an extension or allow you to pay installments.

Its all about deciding what you actually need and what is a luxury- do you really need lots of channels you don’t watch or packages you didn’t use? If not, ring and cancel them asap, although most companies require 30 days notice it will be one less cost to your budget.

Do you really need a store card, or Bright House? These, to me are the biggest rip off going. Its much more cost effective to forego the latest phone or TV if you can’t afford to heat your home. Try signing up for schemes like Freecycle.org, Freegle, or Freely Wheely, where local people will advertise their unwanted items for free.

If all else fails, visit your local Citizens Advice for more.

 

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