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Four ways you could be missing out on extra money and cheaper bills this winter

As the nights get colder and darker, your thoughts may be turning to how you can save some cash and get through the winter.

To be honest, I’m heartily sick of advising people to use their cookers less or avoid the kettle.

While there are savings to be made by conserving energy, but they don’t add up to a huge saving in the big scheme of things – up to £300 if you follow all the rules.

What worries me more is older and more vulnerable people are telling me that they are too scared to use the cooker or put the heating on – and that’s not going to help them.

So why not save some cash by cutting bills elsewhere, claiming all the benefits and grants you are entitled to or even switching bank accounts?

Here’s my guide.
Broadband social tariffs
The quickest way to cut your bills and save a packet is to switch to a better broadband deal if you are out of contract.

I recently wrote about this for the Mirror, revealing how I saved £540 a year.

If you’re adding a TV package, start on a reduced deal – you can always add extra channels or services later.

However, if you are entitled to certain benefits you could be one of 4.2million people that qualify for the new social tariffs.

These tariffs can reduce a bill to £12 a month in some cases – yet only 3% of people have applied for them.

Just type “social tariff” and the name of a broadband firm in to a search drive to find the quickest route to the deals.

First of all, contact your broadband provider and ask them about the social tariff deals they have available, then see if you can find anything better online.

If you need faster broadband speeds for work or keeping in touch with your family and friends, then this is usually possible for a little more too.

How to find lost pensions
Tracking down missing money and making savings isn’t just limited to the immediate future.

The Association of British Insurers estimated that 1.9 million people are failing to claim up to £19.4 billion lurking in old workplace pensions.

The Pension Tracing Service is a completely free service that can help you track down a missing workplace pension.

This happens because many of us will change jobs repeatedly in our working lives – and as a result, you can struggle to find old schemes you’ve paid in to.

The Pension Tracing Service can help you by trawling through 320,000 pension schemes.

It’s dead easy, so get started here right now!

However, wherever there’s easy money waiting to be claimed, there are businesses that will charge you for doing something you can do yourself for free.

So don’t listen to these Google ads and stick to the official tracing service mentioned above.

Benefits and grants
Millions of people don’t claim for benefits and grants because they don’t realise that they are entitled to them.

Don’t assume that the benefits office will know the full extent of your circumstances.

In fact it’s always worth checking in with them to see what details they hold on file about you and to ask what extra support is available.

You can make a start by using the benefits calculators here – but keep in mind that some benefits change depending on which country in the UK you live in.

You can also find a whole range of benefits on the Citizens Advice website here.

One benefit often unclaimed is Attendance Allowance. People of state pension age, who have an illness or disability may be able to claim for this benefit – potentially 3.4 million people.

The amount you get is dependent on the amount of help or supervision you need.

All the previous grants and support announced for people struggling financially are still going ahead.

We should have begun to receive the £400 Energy Bills Support Scheme, which will is being paid out in six monthly payments from October.

You can find out more about the scheme and how you will get the money here.

You can read our guide to the full range of cost of living support schemes here.

Outside of the Government schemes, energy businesses offer energy or heating grants for their customers.

While most of these offers are for their own customers who meet certain criteria, others, like the scheme run by British Gas, are open to everyone.

Citizens Advice has a useful list of all of the main schemes here.

Savings
Savings accounts are finally back and worth considering, after a decade in the doldrums.

Saving rates are now heading upwards of 5%, with even the shortest notice period rates upwards of 2%.

Some accounts offer unlimited withdrawals, others less than two a year.

The rate you get increases the longer you “lock in” your money.

So if you don’t touch your cash for three or five years, you’ll get a better rate of interest.

But keep in mind that rates are expected to rise – so if you lock your cash away for a long time, you might risk missing out on future increases.

Impressively, some of these ‘notice’ accounts lock in your cash for just a month or even seven days.

So why not move a chunk of your savings to a longer notice period account and put the rest in to a much shorter notice account so you can access it in emergencies?

Even if you don’t have any cash to save, some banks are offering incentives of up to £200 to shift your account to them, though you may need to have a certain amount paid in each month – or your wages.