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EDITIONS
Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Consumers worried by gas price hikes
The energy market is changing
Customers are noticing significant price rises
The final controls on gas prices were lifted in April and already there is evidence that energy companies are moving fast to put up prices.

Money Box has found that even those on a low income, who signed up to deals that they thought would protect them, are finding they are having to pay more.

Saga Energy, in conjunction with Northern Electric and Gas, is among the suppliers that has increased prices on its special deal for the over fifties.

One Moneybox listener has found that the 13% rise in his bill has wiped out any savings he had hoped to make.

And Saga is not alone in increasing its prices. TXU Energy, whose Stay Warm deal promises to cut bills for thousands of pensioners, this week increased prices for some customers by as much as 14%.

The consumer watchdog Energywatch says this new completely free market means customers need to be increasingly vigilant about the deal they sign up to.

However Ofgem estimates that you can save as much as 100 pounds a year by switching your energy supplier.

Organisations like Energywatch and Uswitch can calculate for you which gas and electricity suppliers will offer the best price.

When you contact them you need to know the name of your current supplier, the size of your annual bill and how you want to pay.

Once you have made the decision to move you must notify your existing supplier in writing giving 28 days notice, and do not forget to read the meter the day you change over.

If you want to cut your fuel bill firstly look at your method of payment.

Direct debit is by far the cheapest - many suppliers will give a small discount because they know they will get regular payments.

Whereas if you are on a pre-payment meter Energywatch has estimated that you can expect to pay as much as 15% more.

Secondly, take advice on how to make your home more energy efficient. Local councils around the country are trying to cut energy consumption and many have grants and loans available to help pay for loft insulation and the like.

Advice and help:

Energy Efficiency Advice Centres
- 0800 512 012

Uswitch - 0800 093 06 07

You can also email Energywatch.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Louise Greenwood reports for Money Box
"Saga is not alone in increasing its prices"
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