RISING energy bills could cause more people to fall into fuel poverty.

A debt help charity which helps people in Swindon and Highworth balance their budgets is worried about the impact expected increases in electricity and heating costs could cause.

Highworth Churches Together runs a Christians Against Poverty debt centre which offers free debt help and courses which provide assistance to people getting back into work learning how to live better on a limited budget.

Centre manager Kathryn Ford said: “We’ve seen food prices rise, the Universal Credit uplift being cut and now with fuel prices increasing, we’re worried about where this will leave people in Highworth & Swindon this Winter.

“We’re encouraging people to access help and support now, towards the beginning of the winter rather than waiting until the weather gets even colder and things potentially get even worse.

“Many of those we work with struggle to stay warm over the winter as it is, so the recent rises will make matters worse.

"It will particularly affect anyone on prepayment meters straight away and then as bills come in through the year of course it will affect the tight budgets of many of our clients.

"But knowing where to get support, combined with some simple energy saving tips, can make a real difference.”

The charity has offered some advice to help people save money and stay warm.

-Check with the energy company to see if they are on the most appropriate tariff for their gas and electricity, and contact them if you have any concerns.

-Ensure that meter readings are accurate and that they are only paying for the energy they use.

-Investigate whether the property needs insulation to keep as much of the heat being paid for in the home, rather than having it escape through the roof and walls. Boiler grants and free loft insulation may be available - visit simpleenergyadvice.org.uk

moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/free-cavity-loft-insulation or moneysavingexpert.com/family/grant-grabbing

-Turn the thermostat down, even just two degrees, wear warmer clothing, and make sure the boiler is serviced (if affordable).

-Spend less time in the shower by setting a timer. This could save a family of four, on average, as much as £100 per year.

-Use cold water for handwashing. It’s the soap that kills the bacteria, not the hot water.

-Unplug the microwave when it's not in use - otherwise, electricity is used 24/7 to power the clock on it.

-Replace light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps or LED bulbs, which saves money because they are 90 per cent more energy efficient and last 50 times longer.

-Avoid using fan heaters because they use a lot of power even if they are only on for a short period of time, which will significantly increase bills.

-If struggling with energy arrears or have other debts, seek free debt help from Christians Against Poverty (0800 328 0006, capuk.org) or another free debt help service.

One client, Graham explained how the debt centre helped him. He said: "The letters were piling on the anxiety. It wasn’t good.

"When you’ve got that pressure on you, it makes you feel very depressed. You don’t want anybody to find out so you try and keep everything to yourself.

“I was paying down debts with both gas and electricity – it was an accumulation of debt over time.

“It’s a bit of a reality check. It’s easy to get into debt, anybody can get into debt. But there’s no use running away from it and burying your head in the sand. You’ve got to face up to it and want to try and sort it out.

“Now the debt is paid off, it makes life easier. I don’t have to pay those increased costs as I’m not in debt anymore. I now have more money to play around with.

"My gas, electric and insurance are all paid by direct debit. Then I have water, council tax/rates and television that I pay for regularly. Now once I’ve paid those I don’t have to worry.

“When something comes through the door now I don’t have to feel afraid anymore. Working with CAP has made a big difference to my life now.

"It’s a sense of being determined not to get into that situation again. That’s the biggest thing for me. And to try and keep to a budget.

Kathryn added: “For some people, like Graham, it may be that debt help is needed but for others, simple tips or knowing where to access help with grants and low-cost support schemes can be all that’s needed to go into the winter feeling prepared.”