Big Energy Saving Week: How to save money on your oil bill
Around 1.1 million households rely on heating oil. If you're one of them, here are some tips on how to cut the cost of your oil bills.
While 21 million homes in Britain are heated by mains gas and 2.1 million by electricity, around 1.1 million use heating oil, according to figures from Consumer Focus. And gas is the lowest cost fuel, with oil and solid fuel being consistently more expensive.
So what can you do to cut your bills if you use heating oil?
The first thing to do is to shop around. According to experts, many households don't do this: instead, they re-order from the same supplier, year in, year out, and so form a captive (and very profitable) market. Open the Yellow Pages, pick up the phone, and get quotes. You'll be surprised.
Helpful though this is for driving down bills, there's a catch – particularly for customers who pay 'on account'. The price you're quoted won't necessarily be the price you actually pay. The price you're quoted is the price at the time of the phone call – and in today's volatile markets, the price on delivery, which may be several days later, could well be several pence per litre higher.
Use comparison sites
As with other bills, web-based buying can generate even bigger savings. For example, BoilerJuice.com offers an innovative way to both shop around and get a fixed price. Better still, it pits heating oil suppliers against each other, bidding for your business.
Type in your postcode, and how many litres of heating oil you're looking to buy, and BoilerJuice will instantly offer quotes from the various suppliers covering your area.
Better still, because you pay at the time of placing the order, by debit or credit card (there's a surcharge of 1.57% if paying by credit card, though) the price you have been quoted is the maximum that you'll pay. It might be lower, but it won't be higher.
Are there any catches? Only a couple. Don't be surprised if the delivery date quoted by BoilerJuice is several days later than your usual supplier can offer. So keep an eye on the level in the tank, and order a week earlier than you otherwise would. And once you've placed your order you'll need to deal directly with the supplier, not with BoilerJuice.
There's also heatingoil.co.uk, which is owned by GB Fuels and searches prices from their brands and depots, so unlike BoilerJuice you are dealing with the supplier direct, and fueloildirect, which like BoilerJuice compares prices from local suppliers.
Compre prices from a few sites before you make your order.
BoilerJuice also offer three 'group buying' opportunities.
It automatically groups your order with all the others received that day from your immediate postcode. If there are enough orders to generate a bulk-buying discount, you'll automatically benefit from a lower delivery price.
BoilerJuice also operates periodic 'buying weekends'. Get your friends and neighbours to place orders at the same time, and you'll all likely benefit from a lower price.
And a 'community-based buying' scheme operates on a cashback principle, collectively rewarding members with £1 for every 1,000 litres bought. It's a useful way of painlessly generating funds for local village halls, churches, local sports teams, playgroups or other community organisations.
Or you could form your own oil buying group and negotiate with suppliers individually. The fact that they're likely to have more customers in the same area, and therefore have to make less deliveries, could save up to a few pence a litre.
But these aren't the only ways to save money on heating oil. Five more handy tips are worth bearing in mind.
First, make sure that your boiler or oil cooker is properly serviced, in order to make sure that it's running efficiently.
Second, as with other sources of heating, don't leave it running when you don't need to, and turn down the thermostat a degree or two if you can. You almost certainly won't notice the difference, and the savings can be considerable over time.
Third, don't wait to run out before buying oil. Keep an eye on heating oil prices (BoilerJuice publishes a handy chart, for example) and buy when prices are low. Prices traditionally have a seasonal dip in summer, rising in the autumn before peaking in the winter. So stock up before the peak if you can.
Fourth, don't let your expensive oil go walkabout. Oil thefts are on the rise, say experts, and simple precautions such as a lock on the refilling cap can send thieves away empty-handed.
Finally, and most obviously, don't let your tank run out, meaning you have to organise an expensive emergency delivery. Make sure you regularly check how much oil is left in the tank.
This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated