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31 Mar 2022

How to save on 7 tax, bill and benefit changes that will squeeze your finances in April

Household budgets are about to come under more strain as changes kick in all at once

April often comes with a sting in its tail in the form of higher household bills, price rises, and tax hikes, but this year will be especially punishing.

While the TV Licence fee has been frozen and NHS prescription costs have been left alone to help with the rising cost of living, households face an array of changes next month that is likely to increase the squeeze on finances.

The Resolution Foundation is warning that a 'deep living standards downturn is just getting going'. The think-tank estimates that real household incomes for working-age people could fall by 4% - or £1,000 - in 2022-23.

Here, Which? explains the key areas you're likely to see changes, what's being done to help, and offers tips for making a saving.

You can use the links to get to the section you need.

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1. Energy bills

The biggest dent to your finances is likely to be from electricity and gas bills, as Ofgem's energy price cap rises 54% on 1 April. This affects more than 22 million households in England, Scotland and Wales on default tariffs.

An average household (using 12,000kWh of gas and 2,900kWh of electricity a year) paying by direct debit will see their bill jump by £693 to £1,971 a year. Average prepayment customers will pay £708 more, up from £1,309 to £2,017.

The exact amount you'll pay depends on how much energy you use and where you live. If you're on a fixed tariff your bill won't change until you come to renew, when you'll find new deals are much more expensive.

What's being done to help?

All households in England, Scotland and Wales will receive a £200 credit to their energy bill from October, but this will need to be paid back over five years in £40 annual instalments, from 2023.

In Northern Ireland, around 280,000 people receiving certain benefits will get £200 each, which doesn't need to be repaid.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, also plans to extend eligibility for the Warm Homes Discount and raise it by £10 to £150 from October.

Find out more:help if you are struggling to pay your energy bills

How can you save money?

If you're on a variable tariff you should submit your most up-to-date meter reading before the cap goes up. Do your meter reading today (31 March) to ensure you get the current, cheaper rates for all the energy used up until the price rise kicks in. We've had reports of energy company websites going down, so take a picture of your meter to ensure you have evidence if you have to submit it later. You can also try other contact options such as automated phone lines or emailing your provider if you can find a contact email address.

If you're on a default tariff, it's unlikely you'll be able to find any cheaper deals for the next few months - but you could still cut your bills by cutting your energy use. Just switching the type of lightbulb you use can make a difference. Our analysis shows that a halogen lightbulb costs about £8.42 a year to run. In contrast, an LED light bulb costs £1.71 a year - 80% less. Check out our guide on 10 ways to save money on your energy bills for more.

We've also had lots of reports of providers upping direct debits over the past few months. Providers are allowed to do this but they must explain why. If you don't understand why your direct debit payments are increasing, ask your supplier to explain. If you don't agree (for example, if you think your current payments will cover your bills), you can ask for your payments to stay the same.

2. Council tax

Councils in England can increase bills by 1.99%, plus 1% for the adult social care precept, without holding a referendum. But you could see a bigger increase as councils are allowed to carry over a 1% rise from last year.

Which? analysis of council tax data on band D bills found some 286 councils across England and Wales are raising their charges by more than the official 2.99% cap, and 86 councils are increasing rates by more than 4% this year.

People in Scotland will see an average 2.95% band D rise as local authorities are being given the flexibility to set a council tax rate appropriate for their area after rates were frozen last year.

Northern Ireland residents pay rates, not council tax. The value used to determine these bills will rise by an average of 1.33% in April.

What's being done to help?

All households living in properties in bands A to D in England, Wales and Scotland will receive a £150 council tax rebate in April, which will not need to be repaid.

Those who don't qualify may benefit from the £144m discretionary fund for local authorities to give to vulnerable residents and those with low incomes. This is intended to help those who don't pay council tax and therefore won't be able to receive the rebate, or who pay council tax on properties in bands E to H.

How can you save money?

You may qualify for a council tax reduction if you live on your own, with students, provide care, have a disability or live with someone who does, or receive the guarantee credit part of pension credit. If any of these scenarios apply to you or your household, contact your council as soon as possible to request a discount.

You could also challenge your council tax band, which determines the level of council tax your pay. It's calculated based on the value of your property at a specific point in time. For instance, in England, your council tax band is based on what the value of your property would have been on 1 April 1991. So, it could be that you're bill isn't quite right if the property you live in has, for example, been converted into flats. Find out more in the video below.

Just be aware that changing your home's valuation could go the other way and result in a higher council tax bill if your property is put in a higher band.

3. National Insurance

National Insurance (NI) is a tax on earnings if you're employed, or on profits, if you're self-employed.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had announced in September last year that NI rates would go up by 1.25 percentage points from April as part of the government's plan to fund the NHS and social care.

There had been mounting pressure for Rishi Sunak to delay the hike to help households with the cost of living crisis that had escalated since that announcement. Instead, he chose to tinker with the thresholds, which means some lower earners will be shielded from the rise.

According to our analysis, the tipping point for when your pay means you don't benefit from the changes (ie you pay more in NI than you did last year) is £34,261 for those that are employed.

What's being done to help?

In the Spring Statement, Rishi Sunak announced that NI thresholds would increase by £3,000 to bring them in line with the income tax threshold and ensure households can keep more money before paying NI tax.

In addition, self-employed individuals with profits between the Small Profits Threshold and Lower Profits Limit will not pay class 2 NICs. This means lower-earning self-employed people can keep more of what they earn while continuing to build up National Insurance credits.

However, given the last-minute tinkering, the earliest some of the changes can come into force is 6 July. So you may have to pay the higher rate between 6 April and 5 July before becoming exempt or getting a saving on your bill.

The changes to National Insurance mean that someone who is employed and earns £30,000 a year will pay £53 less over the course of the 2022-23 tax year compared to 2021-22 (£2,398 vs £2,452).

Find out more: use our updated National Insurance calculator to find out what you will pay before and after 6 July

How can you save money?

You won't need to keep making National Insurance contributions if you carry on working beyond state retirement age. So make sure your employer is aware of this and adjusts your pay.

This will change from 2024, when the new 1.25 percentage point levy will apply to state pensioners still in work.

4. income tax

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, there are no changes to income tax - thresholds remain frozen until April 2026. You might think that doesn't amount to a price hike, but the freeze will result in 2.3 million people paying more tax, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

In Scotland, the starter, basic and intermediate rate thresholds are to rise in line with inflation. Higher and top-rate thresholds will remain the same.

What's being done to help?

During the Spring Statement, Rishi Sunak pledged to cut income tax to 19% in 2024, though this won't offer immediate help to people struggling with a squeeze on their finances now.

How can you save money?

Check you are on the right tax code. Your tax code tells HMRC how much tax to collect from your salary, so you should make sure it is right each year to avoid paying more than you need.

You should also take advantage of any tax reliefs you may be entitled to. For example, if you are married you may be eligible for the marriage allowance. This tax break allows one partner who earns less than the personal allowance of £12,570, to transfer £1,260 of their allowance to the other. You can use the tool below to see if you qualify.

5. Mobile phone bills

Both O2 and Virgin Mobile will be increasing their prices by 11.7% from April while Three will hike costs by 4.5%.

How can you save money?

If you have recently signed up for a contract, then there is not much you can do without paying expensive termination fees.

If you're out of contract or nearing the end of your contract, you have more options. Rolling contract deals, which allow you to leave with just 30 days' notice, are the best way to give you the flexibility to beat price rises, and ensure that you can move to a monthly bundle that suits your needs if your situation changes.

Find out more:mobile network price rises explained

6. State pension

More than 12 million state pensioners will receive a pay rise of 3.1% from April on their state pension benefit. It's a rise, but it's lower than anticipated after the triple lock was temporarily suspended and replaced with a double lock.

The 3.1% rise was confirmed in line with September's inflation figure; however, as inflation has now doubled to 6.2% in February, there are concerns the increase won't cover the rising cost of living.

Pensioners who are entitled to the full new single-tier state pension will get £185.15 a week from 6 April 2022, up from £179.60, with a total yearly income of £9,627.80.

Pensioners that reached state pension age before April 2016 and receive the basic state pension will see their weekly pension payments rise from £137.60 to £141.85, with a total yearly income of £7,376.20.

What's being done to help?

Nothing this year but the Work and Pensions Secretary, Theru00e8se Coffey, recently said the government remained committed to the return of the triple lock for the remainder of Parliament.

How can you save money?

Check if you're entitled to pension credit. It's a weekly benefit that gives you extra money to help with living costs if you're over state pension age and on a low income. It's also a gateway into other benefits such as council tax support and cold weather payments.

7. Water bills

Average household water and sewerage bills in England and Wales are set to rise by around £7 a year (1.7%) from April.

Households in Scotland will see these water and waste charges increase by an average of 4.2% from April.

How can you save money?

Unlike other utilities, you can't change your water provider, but one way to save could be to switch to a water meter.

Your bill is worked out based on how much water you use.

Typically if you have more bedrooms than people in your house, you'll probably save money by having a meter.

If your supplier can't install a water meter, it may be able to offer you a lower tariff, which is often known as an assessed household charge

Get help with the cost of living

Experts from across Which? have compiled the latest news and advice that can help you navigate the cost of living crisis.

Check out our free advice and podcasts to help ease the squeeze on household bills, grocery shopping and more.

This story has been updated since it was first published. A previous version stated: 'Typically if you have more people in your house than rooms, you'll probably save money by having a meter'. This is not the case. It has been changed to: 'Typically if you have more bedrooms than people in your house, you'll probably save money by having a meter.'