Student Life

Here’s all the energy bill support that students can get this winter

If you’re worried about how you’ll pay your energy bills this winter, here’s all the help with gas and electricity that students can get.

rising energy graph with a shower and radiator

Credit: Before i Go (shower), Eightshot_Studio (graph), rawf8 (radiator) – Shutterstock

There are countless reasons for the current energy crisis that’s being felt in the UK and across the world.

We’re here to help you understand what’s going on, and the help that’s out there.

Read on to discover how much you could be paying for energy this year, plus the support funds you can look to for funding.

What is the energy price cap?

row of exposed filament lightbulbs

Credit: Jevanto Productions – Shutterstock

The energy price cap is a legally enforced limit on the price of gas and electricity. It’s designed to stop energy suppliers from charging you significantly more for energy than it costs them to source it.

Although it’s often advertised as a cap on the overall cost of your bill, the energy price cap is actually a limit on the cost per unit of energy. This means there is no cap on how expensive your bill could be.

So when you hear of the energy price cap being £2,500 per year, this figure is what the average household’s bill is capped at.

If your household size or energy usage exceeds the average, your annual bill could exceed the advertised price cap. And likewise, if you’re part of a small household or use very little energy, your annual bill will probably be less than the advertised cap.

Also remember that, even if you somehow managed to use no energy at all, you’d still have to pay the standing charge. This is a daily fee you pay to cover the cost of supplying your property with gas and electricity, and it’s also subject to a cap.

What is the energy price cap 2022?

The energy price cap is currently £0.34 per kWh for electricity (with a maximum standing charge of £0.46 per day) and £0.10 per kWh for gas (with a maximum standing charge of £0.28 per day).

For the average household, this caps the annual bill at £2,500.

The price cap used to change twice a year before a change in the rules meant it would be set every three months. However, starting with the current cap, which came into effect on 1st October 2022, it will be frozen for six months until April 2023 (it was originally frozen until October 2024, but the government later u-turned on this).

In fact, the October 2022 cap was meant to be significantly higher (£3,549) but the government set it far lower as this was seen to be too expensive.

If you live in Northern Ireland, the same cap will be set for you in November 2022. It’ll also be backdated to October, so you’ll get the same level of support as those in the rest of the UK.

It’s also worth noting that even the caps on cost per unit and standing charges aren’t the same for everyone. The actual figure will vary depending on your region, payment method and meter type – but not drastically.

And if you’re thinking “using the heating has always been expensive, what’s new?” – here’s how the energy price cap has changed over the past couple of years:

Date Energy price cap (average annual bill) Monthly cost Change in monthly bill
April 2020 £1,162 £97
October 2020 £1,042 £87 -£10
April 2021 £1,138 £95 +£8
October 2021 £1,277 £106 +£11
April 2022 £1,971 £164 +£58
October 2022 £2,500 £208 +£44

As you can see, before the current crisis, the energy price cap was relatively stable. The recent increases have almost doubled bills within the space of a year, which is why the government froze the cap and is providing extra support.

Should you switch energy suppliers?

For as long as we can remember, one of our top money-saving tips has been to switch energy suppliers. But, since the energy crisis started, we’ve had to rethink this.

Right now, almost every single energy company is charging the price cap. In other words, no matter who supplies your gas and electricity, you’ll likely be paying the same amount. And if you need to pay an early-exit fee to leave your current provider, switching could actually cost you money.

With that in mind, our advice is now that you shouldn’t switch energy suppliers.

The only exception to this is if you want to switch to Utility Warehouse. Their prices are slightly below the cap, although you may need to take out another service with them (like broadband or insurance) to get this deal.

Get a quote from Utility Warehouse and check out our guide to energy suppliers for more info.

Should you fix your energy prices?

Although there’s an energy price cap, suppliers can offer fixed-rate deals that charge more than the limit. In the past, this was a calculated risk you could take if you thought the price they were charging would be lower than the next price cap.

However, thanks to the freeze on the price cap, things are now a little more complicated.

When the freeze was set for two years, there was very little reason to switch to a fixed-rate energy tariff.

But as the freeze has now been cut short, to April 2023, the games has changed again.

At the time of writing, the government has not confirmed what will happen to energy prices after this point. They have suggested that extra support will be “targeted” after the freeze ends, but it’s unclear exactly what this means.

Until the government issues further details, the expert consensus is not to move to a fixed-rate tariff. However, this may change, and we’ll keep this page updated as and when we learn more.

What if your energy provider increases your Direct Debit?

When you pay your energy bills by Direct Debit, they generally charge you a flat amount each month. You might overpay in the summer and underpay in the winter, but the idea is that it levels out across the year. It’s quick, easy and you usually get a small discount for paying this way.

But in the weeks and months leading up to October’s price cap announcement, people across the country were contacted by their energy supplier to say their Direct Debit payments were going up. And often it was by several hundred pounds – far more than their actual bills would increase by.

So, if your Direct Debit also increases far above what your actual usage will be, here’s what to do:

  1. Claim the money back – If your energy account is in credit (i.e. you’ve paid in more than needed), you can reclaim the extra money at any time. This won’t change the Direct Debit going forward, but it does at least claw some cash back if they’ve already taken a huge payment.
  2. Try to change the Direct Debit online – Head to your online account and see if you can change the payment amount there. This may not work, but it’s certainly worth a go.
  3. Call your supplier – Energy companies must be able to justify how they’ve calculated your Direct Debit amount. Ask them to supply the meter readings they’ve used to reach the new amount* and see if they match up with those on your bills. If your account is in credit, use this as proof that they’re charging you too much.
  4. Complain to the energy ombudsman – If your supplier won’t change your Direct Debit amount and can’t explain why, you can complain to the industry ombudsman. Our guide to making complaints has more info.

* Take this as a reminder to submit monthly meter readings to your energy provider. Unless you have a smart meter, failing to submit readings just means your company has to guess how much energy you’re using – and they could be way off.

£400 energy bill rebate

Back in February 2022, when it was becoming clear that energy bills were about to go through the roof, the government announced some extra financial support for UK households.

The first was a £150 council tax rebate, paid in April 2022. Depending on what type of accommodation you were in, and where in the UK you were, you may have received this – even if you’re exempt from paying council tax (read this post for more details on the scheme).

The second was originally a £200 energy bill credit that customers would have to repay over five years. However, the government soon doubled this amount and, crucially, got rid of the need to repay it.

So, that’s £400 paid into every energy account in the UK. But how does the payment work, and when will you get it – if at all?

The information below is for customers in England, Scotland and Wales only. Click here to find out how the scheme will work in Northern Ireland.

How will the £400 energy grant be paid?

How you pay your energy bill How you’ll get your £400 credit
Direct Debit Either your Direct Debit will be reduced, or the money will be credited directly to your bank account
Standard credit* Credited to your energy account
Smart prepayment meter Credited to your energy account
Traditional prepayment meter Voucher sent (either by text, email or post) to be used when you’re topping up

* ‘Standard credit’ is when you pay after receiving your bill.

This table covers how the energy grant will be paid by all the major suppliers. If you’re after more specific info, your provider’s website should go into more detail about how and when they plan to give you your grant.

No matter who you’re with or how you pay for your energy, your £400 government grant will be sent to you automatically. You do not need to apply for it.

We’ve seen various reports of texts being sent around, asking people to apply for their energy grant. These are scams, and you shouldn’t respond or click the links they contain.

You should also note that the energy grant won’t be paid in one lump sum. The payments will be in the following chunks:

  • October 2022 – £66
  • November 2022 – £66
  • December 2022 – £67
  • January 2023 – £67
  • February 2023 – £67
  • March 2023 – £67

Finally, we should stress that the energy grant is paid per household, not per person. Whether you live by yourself or in a house of six people, your energy account will receive £400.

£400 energy grant in Northern Ireland

The Northern Irish government has said that the £400 energy bill rebate will operate there too – but it may work slightly differently.

The exact details of the scheme are currently unclear, and at the time of writing the most detail we have is from a Facebook post by the Northern Irish Economy Minister.

According to this, the scheme will launch in November 2022, rather than October. The cash won’t be paid in six instalments, either. Anyone with an energy account will receive a lump sum of £400 directly into it. Meanwhile, pay-as-you-go users will receive £170 the first two times they top up by £5 or more, plus another £60 on the third occasion.

Receiving the energy grant if bills are included in your rent

Even if you don’t directly pay energy bills yourself, you could still receive the £400 grant.

The government has confirmed that landlords will be legally required to pass the rebate onto tenants whose rent includes their energy bill.

However, the specifics of this may vary depending on the kind of property you live in. To make things as clear as possible, we’ve split our guidance up between those in privately rented accommodation, and those in halls.

Renting from a private landlord

At the time of writing, there was no further detail on how this will be enforced or how the money should be paid.

But the government is pushing through the legislation to require landlords to pass on the rebate, so it should be confirmed sooner or later.

So, while we wait for the government to issue more guidance, we’d advise you to contact your landlord to see how they intend to give you your rebate.

Renting a room in private or university halls

Unfortunately, things are much, much less clear if you’re living in halls.

Students in halls are obviously tenants, and presumably their rent must partly pay for their energy usage. But, for a number of reasons, it’s also fair to say that it’s at least a slightly different setup to renting from a private landlord.

The government’s guidance offers no clarity on this issue at all. We’ve reached out to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to see if they can clear things up, and they’ve been unable to do so.

We’ve also been in contact with a number of universities and sector experts to see if they’re any the wiser. So far, nobody has been sure either way.

In short, nobody knows if students in halls will benefit from the £400 energy grant.

We will continue to chase universities and the government on this issue, and we’ll update this page as and when we get a definitive answer.

Financial support from energy suppliers

In addition to the government grant, you may be able to get some non-repayable support from your energy supplier.

Some providers – especially the big ones – offer non-repayable support to people struggling to pay their bills.

As with university hardship funds, energy suppliers are pretty strict about who can access this cash. You’ll usually need to provide proof of income, complete a budget, and explain how you’ve ended up in this situation and how the grant will help you. You may also need to have spoken to a debt adviser to be considered eligible.

There will also be more specific eligibility criteria depending on who supplies your energy. Some will only help customers receiving a form of benefits, some will need your account to be in debt by at least a certain amount, and others will stop you from applying if you’ve already received cash from the fund in the past year or two.

Below, we’ve summarised what’s on offer from some of the biggest suppliers, and how to apply.

Energy company hardship grants 2022

* The eligibility criteria will vary slightly depending on whether you’re a British Gas customer or not.

Note that this is not a comprehensive list of all energy grants on offer. If you can’t see your supplier in the table, it’s worth visiting their website or contacting them yourself to see if they offer a similar scheme.

Getting paid to reduce your electricity usage

British Gas, Octopus Energy and Ovo have all announced plans to pay customers for cutting their use of electricity during peak hours.

The exact workings of each scheme vary between suppliers, but fundamentally the rules are the same. For starters, you’ll need to have a smart meter so your supplier can track exactly how much electricity you’re using, and when.

Participating customers will be asked to reduce their electricity use during peak hours, which are usually between 4pm – 7pm. The energy supplier will then pay you, likely as credit to your account.

How much you could earn depends on who you’re with and how much you cut your usage by, but it total as much as £100 over the winter months.

Given how short the peak hour period is, it’s definitely worth giving it a go. You use the time to head to the gym, go for a walk, or even study in the warmth of the library.

We’re still waiting for more details from British Gas, but Octopus and Ovo customers can check out the following pages for more info on their schemes:

Other help with energy bills from your supplier

Even if you’re not eligible for a hardship grant from your energy supplier, there are still ways they can help you, including:

  • Extra time to pay
  • A review of your current payment plan
  • Creating a debt repayment plan
  • Payment breaks.

To find out all of your options, contact your supplier or head to their website.

The University of York has become the first in the UK to offer energy grants to students. If you’re a York student, the uni’s website has more details.

Energy crisis FAQs

Will energy prices go down in 2023?

Wholesale energy prices (how much it costs suppliers to buy energy) are expected to keep rising in 2023.

But remember that, starting in October 2022, the government has frozen the consumer price cap. This was originally for two years, but they later cut this period short to six months. So, you’re now protected from any further price rises until at least April 2023.

We say ‘at least’, as it’s not clear what extra energy bill support the government will offer in 2023, if any. They have suggested that additional support will be more targeted, but who exactly would qualify is unclear.

In addition, the £400 credit scheme only runs until March 2023. So while your bills will naturally drop in the summer, it’s hard to see how we won’t need another energy credit next winter – and ideally more support too.

How can you save money on your energy bills?

Students have always been pretty good at keeping energy bills down. But this year, you might find you need to go to extra lengths to save money on gas and electricity.

One tip that’s proving very popular is to buy a heated blanket, which you can often find for around £30 (although keep an eye out for sales at B&M, Wilko and other similar shops).

They’ll keep you nice and toasty throughout the winter, but should cost much less to run than the radiators in your house. And if you’re worried about using them safely, Dunelm has a handy guide with everything you need to know.

That’s just one hack though. Check out our guide to saving on energy bills for loads more tips.

Is there any extra energy bill support for students?

In short, no.

Aside from the £400 energy bill credit, the vast majority of financial support that the government has announced won’t help students.

Most of the extra funds for those on low incomes require you to be claiming some kind of benefit or Universal Credit. But students usually aren’t eligible for these, so despite being on a low income (often lower than some people who are eligible), they can’t receive the financial support the government has issued to tackle the energy crisis.

We’ll continue to pressure the government to issue extra funding that’s available to all students. But if you’re among the minority of students who are eligible for benefits, this page summarises the additional support that’s available.

What happens if your energy company goes bust?

In the past year or so, a number of energy suppliers have gone bust. If this happens, don’t panic.

When an energy company goes out of business, its customers are simply moved to another company. You won’t need to do anything. And, as all providers are currently charging the energy price cap, you won’t end up paying extra either.

In a very small number of cases, the government may decide that a failing provider is too big and has too many customers to move to a competitor. If so, they’ll place the company into what’s known as ‘special administration’.

This happened to Bulb when it faced financial trouble in late 2021 – and, to this day, it’s still operating under special administration. As a customer, all you really need to know is that the company is basically running as usual, and there are no added costs or risks to your account.

How much does it cost to use each device in your home?

Whether you’re a keen gamer or you drink 20 cups of tea a day, you probably have at least one electronic device that gets you through the day.

Knowing how much each of these costs to run is vital to keeping your bills down this winter. So, to give you an idea of where you can make some savings, we’ve listed the cost of energy per device under the new price cap. You might be shocked at just how expensive it is to run showers…

How should you decide how much energy to use?

Surviving shared living can be tricky at the best of times, and an energy price crisis hardly helps matters. Arguments about leaving lights on or leaving things on standby could get a lot more intense this year…

We can’t resolve every dispute for you, but we can help with a couple of biggies: heating and showering.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that you keep your home at around 18°C. It also suggests a minimum of 16°C if anyone with respiratory problems or allergies lives in your house, and a minimum of 20°C if you live with anyone sick, disabled, or very old or young.

Remember that central heating doesn’t just serve to keep you warm, either. If your house gets too cold, patches of damp may emerge. Worse still, your landlord could hold you responsible if they conclude that you didn’t properly ventilate or heat the property.

It could be an idea to set your thermostat to around 14°C or 15°C overnight to ensure the house doesn’t get too cold. Then, during the day, perhaps set it to 18°C and use the timer so the heating only comes on when you and your housemates will actually be around.

As for showers, experts say you should only be in there for a maximum of 10 minutes – but ideally around half that. Aside from saving water and energy, this should also be better for your skin.

How do you split energy bills?

Our guide to student bills has everything you need to know about setting up utilities and splitting the costs.

But arguably the most important point, especially with energy bills becoming so expensive, is to make sure nobody is left in the lurch.

If you choose to nominate one flatmate to handle energy bills, it’s vital that you transfer the money comfortably before they need to pay. That way, they shouldn’t be hitting the limit of their student overdraft just to cover your share of the bill.

Our list of the best money-saving tips has loads of hacks for helping you fight the cost of living crisis.

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