1. Energy and direct debits (DD): Providing monthly readings can reduce the amount you are being required to pay instead of relying on an energy supplier's estimate.
There are cases where energy providers are requesting ridiculous direct debit increases -- in my own case, for example, my provider tried to nearly triple my DD -- and you can often challenge this. The cap went up by roughly 54% and standing charges appear to also have gone up, but these companies still need to justify huge increases.
2. Should I cancel my direct debit? I know of some people who have gone down this route to just "pay what they owe." However, customers who are not on direct debits are often charged more.
You can also try to claim back cash if you think you've been overcharged.
Some council taxpayers will be receiving a £150 rebate toward their energy costs in council tax bands A - D. If you fall outside of this bracket, you can contact your local council, which may have discretionary funds available to help.
Furthermore, there will be a £200 cut to energy bills in October. However, we all will need to pay this back.
3. Dealing with outstanding debts: Debts can be incredibly stressful. It can be a scary prospect to find out exactly what you owe, and where, but this means that you know where you stand and you might be able to work out deals with creditors.
For example, I recently helped someone with their debt. They were terrified at the prospect of looking at their credit report, but once we did, we found the amount was far less than they thought. We've been able to work with some of the creditors and have cut some of the debts by over half. Now, a small monthly direct debit is in place, and they can sleep better at night.
Ignoring debt might not take a toll on your wallet right now, but it does take a toll on your peace of mind.
4. Dealing with bills and debt disputes: If there are any disputed bills, whether for energy, vehicles, or otherwise, you might want to try and tackle them now.
If you find yourself getting stonewalled, you can also consider reaching out to Citizen's Advice and potentially the Ombudsman service if you think the debt you are being pursued for is wrong or unfair.
You should also take the time to check your bank accounts and see if there are any old recurring payments to cancel.
5. What is the Ombudsman?
The Ombudsman service is a last resort if you're getting nowhere when trying to resolve a demand for payment.
This service may be able to help with issues including disputes regarding energy bills or mobile and broadband payments.
As a personal example, I was once chased for a £550 debt from an energy firm, which had sold the debt on -- twice -- to a collections agency. I was never a customer and the debt was actually accrued by my former landlady and was registered to her address. Despite my protests and supplying all the evidence required, I was still being pursued, month after month. The moment I mentioned the Ombudsman, my name was removed from the file and I never heard from them again.
Keep in mind that first you have to try to work with a company or supplier before you can call upon this service to escalate a complaint. However, if you are getting nowhere and the company refuses to engage, the Ombudsman can intervene on your behalf and demand not only financial compensation but also an apology.
The Financial Ombudsman deals with small businesses and business complaints.
6. Balance transfer cards: It could be the case that more of us than ever will rely on credit cards as the cost of living crunch sinks its teeth further into the UK.
Managing by debt, if possible, isn't recommended, as this just delays the problem -- and as the cost of living is likely to continue to increase for some time, you could get into more financial arrears.
However, when used carefully, balance transfer cards can save you from paying multiple interest payments on multiple credit cards. This can reduce the monthly amount you have to pay back and simplify your payments. You can move multiple balances and consolidate them on one card, for example.
When you choose one, be aware that many balance transfer cards will only have a low or 0% APR for a limited time, such as three or 12 months. So, when that time comes to an end, you could potentially have to repeat the process with another card.
It's about time management and chipping away at debt, but you will likely pay a low percentage transfer fee, so consider this initial cost, too.
As an example, I walked a friend through this method. He has approximately £4,500 in credit card debt, works in health care, has recently had to move back in with his parents, and has been struggling to make repayments on multiple cards. We found a card that will take on most of this amount with a small transfer fee and 0% APR for 12 months, leaving him with this card and a smaller debt on another.
In an ideal world, the spare cash would go to paying off this debt more quickly, but in reality, it's being used to help cover his spiraling fuel costs to get to and from work. It's not a complete solution, but it's something to give him breathing room.
7. Are you paying too much council tax? Council tax bands were introduced in 1991 and were based on the property's value. However, the system is full of errors and the wrong band assignments are common. You can check this guide on how to challenge your band and see if you have been paying too much -- and if you are due a rebate.
Around four years ago someone living in a property close to me challenged their band -- and as a result, I received a surprising but welcome rebate notice in the post as my own band was changed.
A word of warning: this can also go the other way and not in your favor. It can potentially impact your neighbors and they may not be too happy with you if you lose your case and their council tax increases, as well as yours.
8. Check your benefits: Low-income households, the disabled, working families and pensioners may all be entitled to different benefits. It's worth using a benefits calculator to make sure you are receiving the benefits you are due.
9. Marriage tax allowance: If you aren't using your personal allowance in full, the amount you are allowed before you pay tax, you might be able to transfer £1,260 to your wife, husband, or civil partner, thereby slightly reducing the tax they pay.
10. Check your local council for support: Local councils may be able to support you. They may also have grants and awards available for community projects.
11. A point on water bills: You should check to see if your property has a soakaway. It's not commonly known, but if you do and your wastewater is not going back into the grid, you can apply for a cost reduction on your bills.