After a tough year for everyone last year, which unfortunately looks set to continue, we have put together this blog for energy saving week, which is part of a national campaign designed to help people cut their fuel bills and get all the financial support they are entitled to. It is a partnership between the Energy Savings Trust and Citizens Advice Bureau, which has been extended over winter 2020/2021 to run from November to January. Please see further information about the campaigns here:
January is known to be a particularly tough month, after the expense of Christmas and receiving an earlier pay in December, many people across the UK are having to make challenging choices about whether they can afford to heat their homes. Our work shows that blood cancer patients often face financial difficulties following a diagnosis; one of the reasons for this is an increase in energy bills. For example, if you are going through treatment, you may find you are spending more money to keep warm. Additionally, many patients and their families have spent more time at home over the pandemic, due to being asked to shield. Living in a home without adequate heating can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing so it is important that you access any support that is available to help with your heating expenses.
This blog will highlight ways to overcome difficulties if you are struggling with energy-related issues. Making simple changes can make a big difference, such as switching energy supplier or changing the tariff you are on, accessing discounts or grants, or improving your home’s energy efficiency. It will also contain information on how to get financial help, for example claiming all the benefits you are entitled to or getting help in a crisis and accessing schemes.
If you are worried about your financial situation, employment, benefits or struggling to pay bills, please contact our Welfare Officer at Leukaemia Care. You can contact them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling our helpline on 08088 010 444.
How can I lower my energy bills?
There are several things you can do which may help to lower the cost of your energy bills, some without having to cut down on the energy you use.
- Checking you are on the best deal
Firstly, check that your bills are correct and you are not paying more than you need to for your energy; try to give regular meter readings so you pay for what you use and not estimates.
You can also check with the supplier to see if there are any cheaper tariffs or deals, they can offer you. Most suppliers will offer a discount if you manage your account online or by choosing a ‘dual fuel’ deal. This is good for the environment and also cuts down on paper and reduces the costs for the supplier. Contact your supplier to find out if there are better ways for you to pay your bill.
Did you know that it is £100 cheaper per year on average to pay your bill by direct debit than paying cash or cheque? This may be a good option for you whilst also making a saving.
- Switch to another deal if you are not on the best one
Switching your energy supplier could save you hundreds of pounds on your gas and electricity bills. It is also easy and can be done online, and the whole process shouldn’t take any more than 21 days. It is important to start by reading up on the various tariff types, look at your current tariff and think about what kind of tariff you want to go on before you switch. Find out if your contract has an exit fee for leaving early. Citizens Advice explores different types of energy tariffs and things to consider when changing energy suppliers. View on the following link here: https://energycompare.citizensadvice.org.uk/
If you have applied for the Warm Home Discount (please see the next section of this blog), but haven’t received it yet, you will need to apply again with your new supplier. Check with the new supplier and whether they have different rules.
To help you compare the different energy deals available, it is advisable to use websites that Ofgem recommend as they have been accredited with the confidence code. You can find a list of websites suggested at Ofgem on their website. Citizens Advice also has information to help you compare prices and a comparison tool. If you are living in Northern Ireland, you can compare energy supplier rates on the Consumer Council website. For more information, please visit Ofgem’s website:
- Once you have found the appropriate tariff, call the supplier, they will arrange the switch and inform your old supplier. Alternatively, you can switch online – the website you are using will tell you what to do to switch
- On the day that you switch supplier, ensure that you take a meter reading to give to your new supplier. Also, make sure that you have cancelled any direct debits, otherwise, you might continue to be charged by your old provider.
- Also ensure that you have information to hand such as your postcode, name of your current supplier and the current tariff that you are on. You can find this information on your recent energy bill.
How can I make my home as energy-efficient as possible?
There are some simple changes you can do around your home to ensure that you make your home as energy efficient as you can, reducing your costs.
See our top tips to save energy at home:
- Try keeping the room you spend the most time in warm, rather than the whole house. It is a myth that it’s cheaper to keep the heating on low all day and this has been debated a lot over the years.
- By closing your curtains as soon as it gets dark, or just before, will keep the heat in.
- Insulate your roof to stop heat escaping from the house. You may be eligible for free loft insulation if you claim certain benefits. https://www.government-grants.co.uk/free-insulation
- Change your light bulbs to LEDs. These are more expensive to buy but are more energy-efficient long term.
- Turn lights off when you leave the room.
- Air seal your home. Add insulation by sealing cracks, gaps and leaks and save up to 10% on heating costs. Keep the heat in by shutting doors behind you.
- Use heating controls, such as thermostats if you have them, to heat your home without wasting energy. Setting the thermostat to come on only when you need it, for example, half an hour before you get up in the morning. By turning your thermostat down by 1 degree, can save around 10% on your energy bill.
- Turn off electrical appliances such as computers, TV, mobile phones, when not in use, and don’t leave on stand- by. Many new appliances come with an energy rating, choose the best energy rating you can.
- Make use of special cycles on your appliances. Turn off the dishwasher early or use an eco-friendly cycle and air dry the dishes instead. Wash clothes on a cooler temperature. Only boil a kettle with the amount of water you need to use.
- Set your refrigerator temperature to the manufacturer’s recommendation to avoid excessive cooling and wasting energy.
- Ensure that refrigerators and freezers are as full as possible as they operate more efficiently. Be careful though not to overfill as this will cause the appliance to work harder.
- Use a water-efficient showerhead, as they are designed to regulate your water usage. Some water companies provide these for free; you can check if you are eligible here: https://www.savewatersavemoney.co.uk/. For more suggestions on cutting water bill, visit: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/cut-water-bills/
- Consider replacing your windows if your home has single-pane windows; replace them with more energy-efficient windows (e.g. double or triple glazing) or add solar shades. For help making this change, please see below information on the new Green Homes Grant.
What can I do if I’m still struggling to pay the bills, or I can’t afford to make the changes you suggest?
Financial assistance is available in a variety of situations, with the emphasis on keeping warm for less. Each scheme has its own eligibility criteria.
Energy Company Obligation (ECO)
You could be eligible for support through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) (available in England, Scotland and Wales) if someone in your household is receiving benefits such as Income Support or Universal Credit. This scheme is a government initiative that helps vulnerable people and those on a low income make energy-saving improvements to their homes such as insulation, a new boiler, double glazing. To qualify you will be in receipt of certain benefits and have an income of £16,190 or less. Detailed information about the ECO programme can be found on Ofgem’s website here: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/eco
Green Homes Grant
You may be able to get up to £10,000 from a new scheme known as the Green Homes Grant. This scheme is designed to help pay for various energy efficiency improvements. You can view more information here: https://www.grantscheme.uk/default.asp
Winter Fuel Payment
During the winter, the winter fuel payment is available if you were born on or before 5th October 1954. This is an annual, tax-free payment to help with heating costs. Ensure that you are registered to get it, then you will receive this every year. Find out how to claim on: https://www.gov.uk/winter-fuel-payment
Cold Weather Payment
A Cold Weather Payment is a one-off payment to help pay for extra costs when it is very cold. Whenever the temperature drops below a specific temperature for a set period of time, you will get an automatic payment with your benefits. You are eligible if you receive pension credit, income support, income-based jobseeker allowance, income-related employment and support allowance and/or universal credit. Find out more at https://www.gov.uk/cold-weather-payment
Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount scheme provides some people with a one-off discount of £140 off electricity bills once a year. The scheme is open for applications between September and March. You may qualify for the discount if you get the guarantee element of pension credit, known as the ‘core group’, and your energy supplier is taking part in the scheme. If you are eligible, you will receive a letter telling you how to apply for the discount. If you don’t receive a letter, contact the Warm Home Discount on 0800 731 0214.
As well as the core group who get invited automatically, if you are on a low income, and meet the criteria for your energy supplier, you might also be eligible for the Warm Home Discount. This group are known as the ‘broader group’ and must apply for the scheme. To apply for the discount, contact your electricity supplier to check if you are eligible and for application instructions. To find out more information about the Warm Home Discount, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/the-warm-home-discount-scheme
Finally, you may be able to get a budgeting loan to help you with unexpected expenses, such as an unexpected increase in your energy bills if you spend more time at home after diagnosis. To qualify you need to be receiving Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance. Please see: https://www.gov.uk/budgeting-help-benefits for further details.
Additional services that may help you to manage your bills
Register as a vulnerable customer
Let your supplier know that you have blood cancer if possible, as this should mean you are eligible to register for its priority services as a vulnerable customer. The priority services include:
- Notice of any planned power cuts and more support during power cuts
- Your energy supply not being disconnected if you are behind on your payments
- Priority in an emergency (this could include providing alternative heating and cooking facilities in the event of supply disconnection)
If you are in receipt of certain benefits and are already in debt on your energy bills, you can arrange to have a fixed amount deducted directly from your benefits to cover what you owe. Contact your local Jobcentre or your local pension centre, who liaise with your energy supplier and agree an amount, usually around £3.70 to be taken out of your benefits. The fee is a little different if claim Universal Credit; 5 per cent of your total benefit will be taken each week until the debt is paid off.
Assistance in an emergency
Local councils can provide emergency financial support under the local welfare assistance scheme. If you don’t have enough money to meet your immediate, short term needs, you may be able to get support. Your local council may be able to give you some vouchers or a pre-paid card to pay for your energy. Ask your local council for more information. https://www.gov.uk/find-local-council
If you are worried about your financial situation, employment, benefits or struggling to pay bills, please contact our Welfare Officer at Leukaemia Care. You can contact them by emailing email@example.com, or call our helpline on 08088 010 444. The team will take note of your details and then the Welfare Officer will call you back.