How are energy providers helping householders this winter?


Wintry weather is yet to take hold of Britain, but freezing conditions are just around the corner. When temperatures do eventually fall, many of the poorest energy consumers will face an uphill battle to heat their homes this winter.


In light of increasing energy costs and high inflation, many people are planning to take out homeowner loans to see them through the winter. Whilst households struggle to make ends meet, how might energy providers help customers this winter?


E.ON has devised several schemes and initiatives that are designed to help customers survive the winter. The energy supplier's latest scheme, which was announced at the end of October, aims to reward customers who shop in Tesco with money off their fuel bills.


The scheme provides customers with £15 off their energy bills for every £10 of Tesco Clubcard vouchers they accrue. Unfortunately, the scheme excludes E.ON customers who have prepayment meters and those on the Energy Protect, Age UK, StayWarm and WarmAssist Fixed tariffs.


Other forms of winter help provided by E.ON include energy advice and loft or cavity wall insulation for just £150. Before people reach for their personal savings and homeowner loans, E.ON has offered to pay the costs of insulation for the most vulnerable customers.


British Gas is also providing help for customers this winter. Despite increasing gas bills by 18 per cent and electricity bills by 16 per cent several months ago, the energy supplier has promised to freeze energy bills over the winter.


Assuming British Gas customers do not freeze before the next price hike, they may be able to avail of the supplier's Winter Warmer scheme, which comprises a number of initiatives aimed to reduce household energy bills.


In addition to the Winter Warmer scheme, which ought to benefit more than 1.5 million households, British Gas is still running the Warm Homes Discount Scheme, which enables particularly vulnerable customers to save £120 on their electricity bills over the winter.


The Warm Homes Discount Scheme requires eligible applicants to be in receipt of Cold Weather payments or have a household income of less than £16,190 and be elderly, disabled or fuel poor (spending 10 per cent of household income on energy). Applications must be received before the end of December 2011.


British Gas also provides a flexible payment scheme for customers who pay their bills by direct debit and has vowed not to disconnect defaulting domestic customers between December and February.


Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE), meanwhile, has offered to provide help through the Warm Homes Discount Scheme. SSE also promises not to disconnect customers who fail to pay their bills on time and the supplier offers free or discounted insulation to qualifying households. SSE's tariffs are fixed until August 2012.


NPower also offers a price fix and help through the Warm Homes Discount Scheme, which operates alongside the Health Through Warmth scheme, an initiative designed to help only the most vulnerable customers deal with damp and cold living conditions. Customers who sign up for the Winter Fix Tariff should receive £40 off their bills.


Scottish Power is planning to postpone its next round of price rises until April 2012. Scottish Power customers may also be entitled to free cavity wall and loft insulation.


As with most of the leading energy suppliers in the UK, Scottish Power offers flexible payment options for all customers, many of whom are thought to have taken out homeowner loans to cope with the increased cost of gas and electricity this winter.


Finally, in a move that might save many people from spending all of their homeowner loans on improving energy efficiency in the home, EDF Energy has announced the launch of its Home Insulation Scheme, which aims to provide free cavity wall or loft insulation for eligible customers.


Homeowners and private tenants should receive a generous discount from EDF for loft and cavity wall insulation, which ought to cost no more than £199 under the supplier's current scheme.