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Jan/ Feb 2012

What’s in your wallet?

Whether your family is looking for ways to help money stretch a little further or want some tips to cut costs with those never ending household bills, we’ve got it covered in this month’s moneysaving special.

Have you opened up January’s credit card bill or bank statement with your heart in your mouth, feverishly hoping that the family Christmas shopping indulgences have somehow not appeared? Or maybe you are facing January with little money in the household budget and pay day still won’t cover the overdraft and day to day expenses?

On the news front, the family purse is set to be squeezed even further with the proposed benefit changes by the UK government - which potentially could have a serious impact on families here. The BBC reported that up to £500 million could be slashed from the province’s £4.8 billion welfare bill. With the high levels of child poverty and disability claims in NI, there are fears that this could hit already struggling families the hardest.
Introduced into the House of Commons in February last year, the major proposal is the introduction of a new benefit called Universal Credit, which will replace a number of different family benefits; including child tax credit and working tax credit.
Depending on the claimant’s circumstances, universal credit will form a basic allowance with additional elements if you have a responsibility for children, housing costs or other specific needs.
The timetable for the Welfare Reform Bill is not yet set in stone but the bill, once completely decided, will be passed at Westminster level and then on to the Northern Ireland Assembly to impose. ni4kids will be following this issue closely and will be reporting on matter in future issues.

So with many families trying to make do with less money, first up are household fuel costs. According to the Fuel Poverty Coalition for Northern Ireland, the province has one of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK, with ‘44% of all households experiencing fuel poverty and spiralling energy costs.’ The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland defines fuel poverty as ‘when a household has to pay more than 10% of its income to maintain an acceptable level of temperature in the home.’ What’s more, this isn’t just an older people’s problem, of the quoted statistic, 42% of fuel poverty households are families.

Many families in NI are finding the financial outlay for the likes of oil, coal and gas hard to bear and the recent announcement by the Northern Ireland Executive to award a one-off executive funded fuel allowance payment this winter is very welcome.
For most families to qualify for a £75 payment you must be in receipt of: Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance or Job Seekers Allowance.

With a typical fill of a 900 litre oil tank costing upwards of £520, it does pay to shop around. Don’t just stick with the same supplier because you have an existing account and you think it’s handier; use price comparison sites to work out who’s the cheapest.
The Consumer Council’s website, has an oil price checker and every Tuesday and Thursday they update the cheapest, most expensive and average home heating oil prices across Northern Ireland. There’s also a breakdown of oil cost by major towns and cities. With oil prices already soaring, you could save pounds that could go instead to your shopping budget or towards other bills.

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