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It stands to reason that fuel bills tend to be more expensive during the winter months; the shorter days mean lights are on for longer, the cold weather means that heating is turned on more frequently. But watchdogs are advising people to check their bills very carefully in the run-up to winter.

Some utility companies have been found to be raising monthly fuel payments to extortionate levels; in some cases as much as 50 percent is being added on per month. The utility companies are justifying the price hikes by saying they are to cover increased fuel usage over the winter period, and are based on the household's consumption over an average 12 months.

But studies have shown that householders who've been subject to these increases would have to use an average of £1000 of gas over 6 months to justify their new monthly payments.

The people worst hit by this are those with a direct debit fixed payment plan, to protect against this type of scenario. Direct debits have the advantage that if you use less than you pay for during the summer, your account will be in credit come the winter. One would think that this would be enough to cover additional usage, but the gas companies don't seem to be taking these credits into account.

So what can you do to avoid these increases? Simply using less gas might be an option; wear warmer clothing as much as possible, and insulate your home by using draught excluders, double glazing etc. But if you are hit with a massive increase, contact your supplier, in writing, with cold hard figures; your average monthly consumption over the past 12 months or longer, showing the difference between summer and winter if possible. Work out what you think the increase should be based on this and the unit price, and work out how much gas you would have to use if the higher price were correct. If you know your account is in credit, mention that too.

Not all utilities providers put prices up in winter, some offer low gas and electricity prices throughout the year. Compare gas prices from different suppliers online, you might find a cheaper deal.

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