Energy bills: could going abroad this winter help you save?

Read Time:7 Minute, 54 Second

The Guardian

Soaring energy bills mean many Britons are dreading the arrival of winter and considering big lifestyle changes to cope with the financial pressure. So, if your personal circumstances allow it, what about escaping abroad for the coldest months of the year?

Tom Church, the co-founder of the money-saving community LatestDeals.co.uk, is one of them. He says he is considering packing his bags after concluding his rising gas and electricity bills will cost him more than renting somewhere in Europe this winter.

“I wondered: ‘What if I close up the house, turn everything off, and head off for the most expensive months?,’” Church said. “If you’re a renter and can cancel your contract to move abroad for a few months, you can save hundreds.”

The apartments are cheaper to rent and the energy costs are often a lot less, he adds.

The shift to flexible working ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic means the idea is not as radical as it would have seemed a few years ago. The ability to do this of course requires a lot of flexibility and is more likely to appeal to remote-working singles, couples and young families and retirees than say those with school-age children. You also need to be able to afford the upfront costs of accommodation and flights.

However, Church is not the only one considering his options, with online searches for “move abroad” up sharply in recent months amid a worsening cost of living squeeze.

Last month the energy industry regulator for Great Britain confirmed an 80% rise in the consumer price cap from October that will take a typical household’s gas and electricity bill to £3,549 a year. The next cap, for the period January to March 2023, could be higher still at more than £5,000.

A typical energy bill will go up by 80% in October. Photograph: Paul Marriott/Rex/Shutterstock

The new cap, which kicks in on 1 October, equates to a direct debit of almost £300 a month, although some will pay a lot more. Church says his predicted bill for December alone is more than £500.

A lot will also depend on your housing setup. You will still have to pay rent or mortgage costs while you are away, unless, for example, you are prepared to give up your tenancy and find somewhere new to live when you return. That said, some people are fortunate enough to currently have very low mortgage costs.

The latest research by the estate agent chain Hamptons International shows the average rent for a one-bed flat in the UK is £929 a month – and is considerably more than that in London. Number-crunching suggests some people could spend three months in Europe for less than £2,000, including flights, accommodation, wifi and energy costs, and enjoy a cheaper cost of living in general.

However, Church adds: “I want to clarify something. I don’t think this is a good option for anyone. It’s absurd!

“We are in a dire situation – I see in my money-saving community that people are struggling. To save on your energy bills by leaving for a few months should not have to be an option at all.”

Before you leave

If you do decide to follow Church’s lead, there are several things you need to consider when shutting up your home for the winter.

Let your supplier know you are going away and will not be using gas or electricity for several months.

Suppliers including British Gas and Octopus confirmed that direct debit bills will be reduced if you tell them you are going away.

You will still have to pay the standing charge if there is a meter at your property, so your bills will not reduce to zero.

If you do shut up your home and move away for the winter, empty your fridge and freezer – and defrost the latter – before switching off the appliances at the mains. Photograph: incamerastock/Alamy

The daily standing charges for electricity and gas will be capped at 46p and 28p from October. However, those rates are “averages and will vary by region, payment method and meter type”.

Empty your fridge and freezer – and defrost the freezer – before switching off the appliances at the mains.

However, while turning your boiler off while you are away would clearly save you money, it is a risky move during the winter that could cause problems – for example, if your pipes freeze.

Most boilers can be timed to switch on for an hour a day. E.ON recommends timing it for between 3am and 4am, which is usually the coldest time of the day.

Alternatively, you could drain the heating system and shut off the water supply.

Renting out your home while you are away is one way to recoup costs but make sure to double-check the terms of your contract if you are a tenant, as many landlords will not allow you to sublet.

If you are a homeowner, you will have to consider the extra costs you might incur by becoming a temporary landlord, and enlist someone in the local area as a point of contact for your tenants while you are out of the country.

It would also be worth getting a friend or neighbour to check in at your home while you are away, whether that is to water the plants or for extra security.

Double-check your insurance policy, too, to see if it becomes void if your home is left unoccupied for a certain number of days. You might have to buy a top-up policy.

Accommodation

Airbnb allows guests to book stays longer than 28 days, and energy bills are typically included in the total price. But check the house rules carefully before booking as they could include extra information about bills – for example, whether you will have to pay more in certain circumstances.

Contact the host to come to an agreement about bills, and make sure you get it in writing to avoid conflict later on.

Airbnb property in Spain. Photograph: Perla Requejo/Reuters

If a host tries to charge for something that was not included in the listing description or house rules, guests can open a dispute with Airbnb.

When booking through other platforms such as Booking.com or directly with the property owner, make sure you get clarity on how you will be charged for gas and electricity.

We checked out how much a three-month stay in or around Málaga in southern Spain would cost on Airbnb.

The amount you pay will depend on your requirements – for example, whether you are happy staying in your host’s spare room or would prefer the whole place to yourself.

When we looked, a small flat with a terrace and a sea view in Torremolinos, west of Málaga, would cost £2,701 for the entire trip. Meanwhile, a room in a flat 15 minutes from the beach in Málaga would cost £1,476 for the full three-month period, although you would have to share the bathroom and kitchen with other guests.

Church found that some of the cheapest rentals were in France but there were also interesting options a little further afield in places such as Montenegro and Romania.

Many apartments abroad offer free cancellation, so you can book now and cancel later if you change your mind.

Flights

When we checked on the flight comparison website Skyscanner, you could get direct return flights between London and Málaga for £58 with Wizz Air and Vueling, leaving on 1 October and returning on 31 December.

Those figures do not include the cost of hold luggage, which you would presumably need for a three-month stay and would have to pay extra for.

Double-check the Covid rules in your destination before you book.

Working abroad

After Brexit, UK citizens can only stay in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein for 90 days or less within a 180-day period without a visa.

This is mainly aimed at tourists but there are some work-related allowances such as attending a business meeting or conference.

Double-check the visa requirements in the country you are planning to visit to avoid breaking the rules.

Spain is planning to introduce a visa for people working remotely for foreign companies – sometimes known as “digital nomads” – but it has not yet been introduced.

That means UK passport holders may need to apply to the Spanish consulate for a visa if they are planning to work remotely for a UK company while in the country.

Sybille Steiner, an employment law partner at the solicitors Irwin Mitchell, says: “Individuals should not enter a EU country as a tourist and then start working there, as that is likely to violate immigration rules. The rules here will differ according to the country, and I recommend that local advice is taken.”

There could also be tax implications for your employer, Steiner says.

September 3, 2022 at 11:57AM Jess Clark

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