Seven bills going up and one going down in April

Rachel Aitken
New mum Rachel Aitken says she is finding new ways to cut back on spending [BBC]

Rises in some bills in the coming days mean many households will see their already tight budgets stretched further - but not all costs are going up.

Cuts to National Insurance and increases in the amount people receive in benefits take effect in early April.

But regular bills like council tax and water are going up so experts say family budgets need careful attention.

New mum Rachel Aitken said: "I never have thought I'd be looking so intensely at my bills."

"It is a real pressure point, squeezed time," added Ms Aitken from Southport.

She is on maternity leave after her daughter was born eight months ago, so her family is relying on her husband's income until she returns to work in July.

"I'm shopping very mindfully because our baby is growing into bigger clothes fast."

Here are some of the changes taking effect in the coming days, and the help that is available.

1. Phone and broadband costs

Most broadband and mobile phone providers are currently introducing mid-contract price rises of up to 8.8%.

This is generally based on the inflation rate last December, plus an additional charge.

While this is allowed under current rules, the approach is expected to be banned by regulators later in the year.

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Consumer group Which? has called the current system "grossly unfair" because the alternative of paying an exit fee would be expensive. It follows rises of up to 17.3% a year ago.

Companies say they have been clear and transparent about price rises. Cheaper social tariffs are available for some people on benefits.

Customers can check if they are beyond the end of a contract - by texting "Info" to 85075 for free on a mobile - at which point they can shop around for a better deal without a fee.

2. Water bills get more expensive

The average annual water and sewerage bill will rise by 6% in England and Wales, up £27 to £473.

In Scotland, water and waste charges will go up by 8.8%, a rise of £36.

Actual individual bills can differ significantly owing to regional variations and usage levels for those on a meter.

In England and Wales, Wessex Water are at the top end of the scale, with average bills set to increase to £548, while Northumbrian customers will see the lowest average bills of £422.

Water firms have been facing intense scrutiny after the dumping of sewage into rivers.

Charities say there are ways of bringing bills down - from usage to help for those on benefits. The WaterSure scheme in England and Wales helps some people with their bills.

3. Council tax rises

Council tax, or the equivalent rating system, will rise in most areas - although a freeze is now expected across the whole of Scotland.

Local authorities collect the tax to pay for services such as rubbish collection, street lighting and libraries. Authorities in England with social care duties can raise council tax by up to 4.99%, without triggering a referendum. Others can increase it by up to 2.99%.

Some can increase bills by more than 5%, with government permission, such as Birmingham where council tax will rise by 21% in two years.

Proposed increases vary from 5% to 16% in Wales, and between 4% and nearly 10% in domestic rates in Northern Ireland.

There is a freeze until 2025 in Scotland. although two councils had threatened to defy the national policy.

In general, some households - such as people living alone, those with disabilities, or student properties - can receive discounts.

4. TV, car and dental fees rise

Various other fees and charges are rising in April.

They include the cost of the TV licence fee, which will go up by 6.6% to £169.50, after being frozen for two years.

It is free for for any household where someone is aged over 75 and also receives the means-tested pension credit. Anyone who is registered blind can get a 50% discount.

Vehicle tax is also rising, with the annual flat rate for a car registered on or after 1 April 2017 going up by £10. The amount due depends on the type of vehicle, when it was registered and which type of fuel is used.

NHS dental charges in England will increase by 4%, which means a standard check-up will cost £1 more, at £26.80. Some people are eligible for free dental care, such as when pregnant.

5. The good news - falling energy prices

The annual energy bill for a household using a typical amount of gas and electricity will fall to £1,690, which is the lowest for two years.

Regulator Ofgem's new price cap takes effect on 1 April and means a drop of £238 a year, or around £20 a month, on that typical bill.

The regulator's price cap affects 29 million households in England, Wales and Scotland. Rules are different in Northern Ireland, where prices are also falling. The cap sets the maximum amount suppliers can charge for each unit of gas and electricity but not the total bill - so if you use more, you will pay more.

But the fixed standing charges element of the bill is rising, and the fee varies depending on the region where you live.

Cost of living: Tackling it together

How to check if I'm eligible for benefits

Some people may find they can get help with bills by claiming the benefits to which they are entitled.

You can check your eligibility for pension credit via the government's online calculator.

Information is also available on how to make a claim. There is also a phone line available on weekdays - 0800 99 1234.

Guide to benefits, when you qualify and what to do if something goes wrong, are provided by the independent MoneyHelper website, backed by government.

Benefits calculators are also run by Policy in Practice and charities Entitledto and Turn2us.