What Really Cuts Your Bills?

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There is a lot of advice out there for cutting down on your bills, but not all of the tips are entirely effective. It is hard to know which pieces of advice are really worth following and which are not so worthwhile.

Switching Suppliers

Of all the many pieces of bill/cutting advice, this is arguably the most oft-repeated. This is with good reason; it is also arguably the most significant. Being on the best deal for utilities and telecoms can save a lot compared to being on the worst deal, and the best deals are almost always saved for initial contract periods. Whenever one contract ends, it is definitely and absolutely worth consulting a comparison site to see if a new contract and supplier can get you a better deal.

Avoiding Standby

Most modern electronics don’t really use a great deal of power on standby, so leaving them on like that for a while in between periods of using them won’t do a great deal of harm. But when devices are left on standby all the time they are not being used, all day and all night, this can really mount up. When there are multiple devices being left this way, then the effect on your bills will mount up all the faster. Making sure you turn things off properly at the socket when they are going to be out of use for more than a short period, particularly overnight, can result in a noticeable drop in electricity charges.

Shorter Showers

Cutting down on the time you spent in the shower is something that could cut more than you might think off of your bills. This is particularly true if your property’s water supply is metered – something that has been on the rise in recent years and is now the case for many homes. Assuming you do have a meter, showering will add to two of your bills; your water bill, and your gas bill because of the need to heat the water. Foregoing the pleasure of standing under the flow and cutting a few minutes off of your shower time every day can lead to a significant saving each month across these two bills.

Boiler on a Timer

Whether it is worth putting your boiler on a timer is something of a contentious question. Some claim it takes more energy to heat up a cold house or tank of water from scratch than it would to keep it warm in the interim. While it is true that this factor means the savings aren’t as big as you may think, it is still decidedly cheaper to use a timer. Having your heating off in the day when the house is empty and set to come on a while before you get home can result in a decent saving. Once heated, a hot water tank will generally stay hot enough for at least a day, meaning you can also use a timer to heat your water up for a couple of hours in the early morning then turn your boiler off again until the next day.

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Phoning HMRC Cost Taxpayers £97 Million in a Year

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Last year, waiting on the phone to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) cost taxpayers millions, according to spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO). Thanks to long wait times, people calling the taxman spent a collective £10 million in call costs while on hold and waiting to speak to an adviser, the NAO said.

Over the span of 18 months, starting in 2014, the NAO said that HMRC’s standards of service when dealing with telephone queries “collapsed.” Over that space of time, the Office claims, the time that customers spend waiting to speak to an adviser tripled and many calls went unanswered. While HMRC has claimed that the majority of incoming calls now get an answer within six minutes, the NAO says that the time spent waiting on hold with HMRC last year could be up to an hour.

In the course of its recent investigation into the standards of HMRC’s service, the NAO calculated the amount that these lengthy calls had costs taxpayers. The cost of phone calls, the organisation reports, was £10 million in total, and the NAO believes that much of this is a result of long waiting times.

The NAO also included the value of people’s time in the calculations, averaging this at a rate of £17 per hour. On this basis, the organisation estimates that taxpayers spent a total of £66 million worth of their time just waiting on hold to speak to an adviser, and a further £21 million while talking to HMRC after their call is finally answered. This brings the NAO’s estimate for the total amount lost to taxpayers on calls to HMRC, including both call charges and time spent on the phone, at £97 million.

One of the key causes for the drop in standards for HMRC when it comes to dealing with phone queries, the NAO claims, is staff cuts. Specifically, the organisation points to the fact that the tax authority drop 11,000 of its staff as part if its drive to increase the number of tax returns completed online, on the assumption that this would result in fewer phone calls to be answered. These cuts took place in stages between 2010 and 2014.

Seemingly recognising this as a misstep, HMRC has since increased the number of staff available to answer helpline calls by 2,400. These extra staff were brought in last autumn, after typical waiting times for calls to HMRC peaked at 47 minutes.

In response to the NAO’s report, HMRC director general for customer services Ruth Owen said: “We recognise that early in 2015 we didn’t proide the standard of service that people are entitled to expect… We have since fully recovered and are now offering our best service levels in years.”

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