HOUSEHOLDS across Scotland are set for a bills shock over the coming weeks as broadband and telephone costs rise and a raft of fixed rate energy tariffs expire.
BT, TalkTalk, Sky and Virgin are among the telecoms providers hitting customers with price hikes that will result in some households paying up to 50 per cent more for their internet and phone connections.
Don’t pay for features you didn’t know you had
Sharp increases to landline charges have sparked particular anger, with experts warning that people who simply want ordinary phone services are being penalised by increased charges on services they don’t require, such as broadband and premium TV.
“It’s been a tough year, with steep hikes across the board from broadband and landline providers,” said Lisa Venter, social media marketing manager at Moneydashboard.com, an Edinburgh-based personal finance management service.
“This is said to be a combined result of providers having to make provisions for expensive additions such as fibre optic cabling across more areas and making up for competitive sign-up packages.”
The latest BT increases will take effect on Monday. Its monthly landline charge goes up by £1 to £17.99, while broadband costs will climb by almost 7 per cent and the cost of calls to UK landlines and 0870 numbers will jump from 9.58p to 10.24p a minute.
Meanwhile, TalkTalk is raising costs on several of its services, with its popular Simply Broadband package going up by 50 per cent more expensive from 1 October. It will be the second increase in the space of a few months, taking the charge from £3.50 a month in May to £7.50 from October. Those wanting to walk away could pay an exit charge of £13.52, itself up by nearly a third.
The provider’s landline charge is rising by £1 to £17.70 a month, adding to the BT hike and those from smaller firms including PlusNet, POP Telecom and Utility Warehouse.
Line rental charges, which are paid annually, are increasing by an average of £12 a year, according to research by TenTel.
Robert McKechnie, managing director of the Scottish independent telecoms firm, called for a cap on line rental costs.
“The cost of broadband and premium TV is being subsidised by increasing landline prices, which means that customers who just want phone services are paying the price for those who want premium TV and broadband.
“Many providers promote misleading headlines, such as Free Broadband for 12 months when in reality they are increasing their line rental costs and hidden charges,” he said.
So how can you make sure you’re not paying over the odds for services you don’t want or need?
Take a quick look at your existing contract as it might reveal that. you’re paying for features you didn’t know you had
“You could cancel your voicemail on your landline if you only have it set up to facilitate your broadband connection,” said Venter. “Didn’t know you were paying for voicemail? This is just one of the additional charges that companies like Sky add on that may pass you by.”
Some all-inclusive deals also add charges when a phone call reaches a certain duration, noted David Black, director of DJB Research.
“If you want both landline and broadband it’s generally cheaper to get both from the same provider, while paying the bills by direct debit usually gets a discount,” he added.
Switching provider is another option, and there is still a fair amount of competition on all-inclusive packages.
“Check your paperwork to see how and when you can get out of your broadband contract to find a cheaper alternative if your circumstances have changed,” said Venter. “You may have to pay an exit fee but in the long run you could be saving a lot more.”
An exit charge isn’t the only transfer hitch to look out for, according to Black.
“One of the hassles with switching provider is that you may lose your email address if you’re using your broadband provider’s generic email address,” he said. “It’s the same with landline numbers, so do check and think about that before switching.”
Meanwhile, thousands of households face higher energy bills when their fixed rate tariffs come to an end this month.
Of the 24 dual fuel tariffs maturing this month, 21 will automatically move customers onto more expensive standard variable tariffs, according to Gocompare.com, with an average increase of almost 16 per cent. Suppliers including Scottish Power, Scottish Gas, Co-operative Energy and First:Utility will all be shifting customers onto variable rates when their existing tariffs expire on 30 September.
Households on Scottish Power’s “online fixed price energy September 2015” tariff, for example, will see their annual cost rise by an average of almost £100 to £1,113.25, unless they shop around for another fixed rate.
Similarly, those on the Scottish Gas “discount fix September 2015” and who don’t switch when it ends on 30 September will see the annual cost jump by an average of 15.3 per cent to £1,100.92.
Caroline Lloyd, energy spokesperson at Gocompare.com, said: “Unfortunately, households who are loyal to their energy provider once their current deal expires are usually rewarded with a significantly more expensive tariff that doesn’t represent value for money
“With a huge number of fixed tariffs coming to an end this month, it’s really important for customers to keep on top of when their deals expire and ensure they’re not paying over the odds for their energy.”