Are you a new home owner or moving out of your family home for the first time? This can be hugely exciting, but equally nerve-wracking. There’s a lot of information to take in about your newfound responsibilities.
The likelihood is, this will be your first time paying utility bills. It’s a term we’re all familiar with, but may not fully understand. What are utility bills? How do I pay them? Can I make savings on my utility bills? The list goes on.
Thankfully, acasa is here to tell you absolutely everything you need to know. acasa is a home management platform and bill-splitting app for house sharers and we’ve put together this ultimate guide to UK utility bills.
You will learn everything about utility bills
We’ll give you the low-down on:
- What utility bills are.
- What household bills are not utility bills.
- How your utility bills impact your credit score.
- How to set up utility bills in a new or rented house.
- How utility bills can provide proof of address.
- Where to change your address if you move.
- How to reduce your utility bills.
Alternatively, use acasa to manage your bills
With acasa you can manage all your bills in one place – learn more.
What are utility bills and why do you need them?
Your utility bills reflect the most basic costs associated with running your home. This includes gas, electricity and water.
These are all things that you simply can’t do without. Nearly everything in your home relies on power, from your lights to your TV, your computer, WiFi connection and any security system you might have in place—such as a burglar alarm. Gas heats your water and living spaces and fuels your oven, ensuring you can cook your food!
We need utility bills to account for how much of these vital services we use, and to let us know how much we owe to our suppliers.
Utility bill meaning
The purpose of any utility bill is to collect payment for the gas, electricity and water you’re using.
Your utility bill breaks down your use of gas, electricity and water over a set period and lets you know how much this costs. It should display how many units you have used and the cost per unit. It will also display the total cost for services used.
Most utilities rates are fixed for a certain period of time so you should know what to roughly expect from your bill.
You should expect to pay for utility bills such as gas and electricity in regular monthly instalments. Any underpayment or overpayment will be settled at the end of your contract with the supplier.
Facts about utility bills
- Water bills are more likely to be charged on a quarterly basis, so you can expect 4 bills per year.
- Paper utility bills are sent to your address, although many companies are now moving to email based bills.
- Choosing to go paperless with your billing can come with incentives such as £5 – £10 off your bill.
- Each bill will indicate appropriate methods of payment, as accepted by your supplier.
What is the difference between utility, electricity, energy and gas bills?
Utility bills is an umbrella term that includes your electricity, gas and water usage and costs.
It can also include bills for essential services such as those provided by the council, like sewer services. Optional services such as cable tv or mobile phones are not considered to be utility bills.
Often the words utility, electricity, energy and gas are all used to mean the same things. Utility bill or energy bill commonly covers electricity, gas and sometimes even water. A landline phone is not considered to be a utility bill.
What other household bills do I need to worry about?
Aside from electricity, gas and water bills, you may have other costs associated with running a household. These could include:
- Rent or mortgage payments
- Internet and mobile phone connections
- TV licence, cable TV contract
- Credit card payments
- Council services
These bills are not considered utility bills. Other general household costs such as grocery bills are also not included.
How do utility bills impact my credit score?
How you pay your utility bills does impact on your credit score (or “credit rating”), as utilities companies often share payment history with credit companies.
What does this mean?
Well, if you have a solid record of paying your bills on time, you will usually have an easier time securing a loan or contract (for example a mobile phone contract). If you miss a payment it may show you have a higher risk of defaulting on a loan. That means lenders may not loan you money, or you may be charged a higher interest rate.
The last twelve months of credit history is usually the most important. If you have missed payments in the last twelve months, wait until you build up a stronger credit profile. Lenders can be forgiving of past blemishes. This should happen if your current payments are happening on time.
You can help avoid late payments by setting up direct debits with your bank. You could also set a recurring reminder in your calendar. Making regular payments will reassure lenders that you are trustworthy.
How to set up utilities
How to set up utility bills for the first time
It is important to establish your utility connections when you first move into your new home. It doesn’t matter if you are renting or buying – you must take care of it. The agent or landlord is not responsible for this.
If you are moving into an established home the electricity and gas supply will already be in place, ready for connection once you choose your energy provider.
You will need to make sure the bills are being charged to you and not to the previous owner or tenant. The utility company will usually set the tariff to the ‘standard’ option. This is typically the most expensive rate. Here’s how to take control of your utilities and make sure you are getting the best prices.
Find out which company is providing the utilities. If you are unsure, we’ve written about how to find your gas and electricity supplier.
Take a meter reading on the day you move in. Photograph the meter if you can to verify. This will help you avoid paying any charges the old tenants incurred.
Find out which tariff you are on, and if it’s the best deal. Comparison sites such as Moneysupermarket.com and uSwitch will help you compare utility prices based on your usage. Investigate your options and choose the right one for you.
There are two different ways you can be supplied electricity. Which one is being used at your property will influence how you set up paying for it.
Each month or quarter you will receive a bill that outlines how much energy you used and how much you need to pay. Make sure to read the meter, then call the energy provider and switch to the best tariff for you when you move in.
This option is popular with landlords. There is little risk a tenant can leave without paying an outstanding bill. Instead of receiving a bill, you buy credit (usually on a key, card or voucher) and add it to the energy account.
The downside is this option is usually more expensive than a postpaid credit meter. It is important to keep track of your credit so you don’t lose power at a time when you are unable to buy more credit.
Make the switch by contacting the provider and start saving money.
How to set up utility bills when renting
If you are renting your utilities may be included in your rent. Confirm with your landlord if you are unsure. If your utilities are not included in your rent you will need to set up accounts yourself, and follow the guide above under the ‘How to set up your utilities for the first time’ section.
If you are sharing a house with others or renting a room in a property there are other factors to consider. The utilities may already be established in another tenant’s name. If so, you may need to come to a private arrangement about how you will contribute to the cost of utilities.
You may wish to add your name to the utility account so everyone is liable for the cost. It can be a risk to take on the bill in your name alone. Using a bill splitting and household management app like acasa (previously called Splittable) can help to keep track of when bills are due. It will also track who needs to pay their share.
How to set up utility bills in a new home
The process to establish utilities in a brand new home are similar to an established home. Often an energy supplier will make a deal with a property developer to supply the new homes.
It is up to you to investigate and make sure you are on the best tariff for your needs. As you can’t establish your usage history, you will need to estimate your usage.
Take regular meter readings in the first 3-6 months to get a better understanding. As you learn about your usage needs, you will be able to adjust to the most cost effective tariff.
How to set up student utility bills
There are no discounts or special tariffs available for students. The best advice is to seek out the most appropriate tariff for your usage. Prepaid meters are often installed in student accommodation. As mentioned above, these can be quite expensive, so seek out the best deal. Also, it may be helpful to look for ways to decrease your energy and water usage.
Proof of Address
Before using the information below, check with the authority requesting proof of address. Different agencies have lists that outline their specific requirements.
Can I use a utility bill as proof of address?
You can use a utility bill as proof of address if your name is on it, and the bill has been issued within the last 3 months.
It’s important to know that you cannot use your utility bill as proof of your name. A document such as a passport or birth certificate is required for that purpose.
How do I get proof of address without bills?
There are many documents that can serve as proof of address. It is not restricted to utility bills. The bill must have your name on it for it to serve as proof of address. You could use one of these:
- Council tax bill for current year
- Current UK driving licence
- Bank or building society statement or passbook, issued within last 3 months
- Original mortgage statement from a recognised lender issued within last 12 months
- Solicitor’s letter confirming house purchase dated within last 3 months
- Land registry confirmation of address
- Council or housing association rent card, or tenancy agreement for the current year
- Original documents provided by benefit agency
- HMRC self assessment letters or tax demand letter for current financial year
- Electoral registry entry
- NHS medical card or letter from a GP confirming your registration at the practice
The following documents are typically NOT counted as official proof of address:
- Mobile phone bills
- Credit card statements
- Provisional driving licenses
does my name need to be on one of the bills to get proof of address?
If you intend to use the utility bill as proof of address, your name will need to be on it. Contributing to the bill does not count as there is no official record of you. Use the list of alternatives above if you are not listed on the utilities bill.
Is it possible to open a bank account without proof of address?
It is extremely difficult to open a bank account without current proof of address. This can be challenging for foreigners who have recently arrived in the UK. They often need a bank account before establishing utilities accounts.
Additionally, immigrants in the UK must provide proof that they are in the UK legally. This is usually in the form of a valid visa and passport.
There are some banks who will agree to open a bank account without proof of address. However, these accounts are geared toward foreign visitors, not UK citizens.
If you do not have proof of address you may need to provide extra identification documents. The bank needs to be confident that you are who you say you are. Bring these documents with you:
- EU or EEA national identity card
- Residence permit issued to EU nationals by the Home Office
- National driving license
You may be able to ask your employer to write a statement that confirms your employment and address. You may need to provide the bank with evidence of your previous address. It’s possible to authorise your new bank to confirm your identity with your old bank (outside of the UK).
Each bank will have their own requirements when opening a new account. It is best to go to a branch in person and bring as much documentation with you as possible. Be prepared for a longer wait until your account is opened.
How much does the average utility bill cost?
On the whole, average utility bill costs in the UK have been rising non-stop. The average tariffs charged by gas and electricity suppliers surged 21% in the five months to October 2018, with the ‘Big Six’ companies—British Gas, Npower, EDF, E.on, Scottish Power and SSE—which supply 75% of the UK’s energy, hiking prices by an average of £81 last year.
To combat the problem, Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, introduced an energy price cap at £1,137 a year for an average dual fuel bill. This increased by £117 to £1,254 a year in April 2019 to reflect wholesale energy prices, and could go higher still.
With both wholesale energy costs and tariffs changing all the time, it’s hard to say exactly what the average utility bill costs at the moment. In 2018, it was around £1,138 a year.
Average gas/electricity bill prices per home size
The cost of your utility bill will vary and depends on different factors. The size of your home and how many rooms you have are both a good indicator of average utility costs. You can also influence the cost by changing your behaviours.
What is the average winter bill?
Winter weather increases demand on your power and gas. The winter months account for around 40% of a household’s annual energy bill. If a bad cold spell sets in, it can add an extra £30 or more to your next bill.
You can contact your provider to negotiate repayments. This is a better alternative to having your services cut off due to unpaid bills. Most gas and energy providers enable you to pay your bill evenly throughout the year. So instead of a large winter bill, you’ll pay the same monthly amount throughout the year at a more manageable level.
How to save money on winter bills
There are two ways to help minimise your winter utility bills. First, make sure you are on the most cost effective tariff. Contact your energy supplier to adjust it if you need to. Consider sourcing your power and gas from the same supplier. There is often a discount for doing so.
You can reduce your usage by adopting energy efficient practices. Here are some ideas:
- Use blankets and warm clothing instead of running heating all day
- Close doors and only heat rooms you are in
- Turn off appliances you aren’t using at the wall. Standby settings use a lot of power.
- Install insulation if you own the home
- Install heavy curtains to reduce heat loss
- Install draught excluders on doors to reduce heat loss
- Turn down the thermostat. Reducing by even 1 degree can make a significant saving.
- Turn off heating if everyone is leaving the house
- Block off ceiling air conditioning vents (heat rises and warm air can escape very easily)
- Turn down the hot water temperature. Even small reductions can make a difference.
- Dry clothes on a rack in front of the radiator, not on the radiator
- Move furniture away from the radiator so it doesn’t block the heat
- Shorten showers by one minute to reduce water heating costs
- Turn down water heater temperature slightly if possible
- Running high heat for short times instead of long spells of low heat
- Buy efficient heaters. Cheap electric heaters drive bills up quickly.
- Use the microwave or stovetop for quick meals instead of the oven
- Take hot water bottles or heat packs to bed
- Sleep together in one bedroom to save heating one more room overnight (This one may be a little drastic depending on your circumstances!)
What are smart utility meters?
Smart meters are high-tech metering systems that automatically measure your gas and electricity use, then send this information directly to your supplier—saving someone the trouble of coming out to read your meter for you!
Consumers can see a rolling estimate of their usage and costs on the smart meter screen, putting them in charge of reducing both their energy consumption and the cost of their utility bill.
Smart meter roll out
The UK government starting rolling out smart meters across the country in 2016 in an attempt to drive use, make utility bills more efficient and encourage consumers to play an active role in reducing emissions.
By 2020, every household in the UK should’ve been offered a smart meter by their energy supplier, but it is not compulsory to accept. As of September 2018, more than 13.65m smart meters had been installed in homes across the UK.
How does a smart meter save you money?
Smart meters put consumers in control of their utility bills. As they can view a rolling estimate of their usage and costs on the in-home display, households with smart meters installed can be proactive about reducing their gas and electric use, protecting the environment and bringing down their utility bill costs.
acasa is a leading home management platform designed to not only make the lives of students and sharers easier, but to save them money as well. Using acasa, house sharers can set up and pay for utilities and rent, track household spending and benefit from direct billing. We partner with the very best providers offering cost-effective and sustainable utilities to get our users the best deals. We also donate 1% of our revenues to charitable causes, and are currently partnering with Crisis UK to eradicate homelessness.