Lifestyle

How to save money on your energy bill and the support available if you’re disabled

With the energy prices rising and our new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, having been appointed recently, this is an exceptionally worrying time for many, particularly if you have a disability or health condition, something that already raises the cost of living considerably. Here at Disability Horizons, we share tips on how you can save money on your energy bill and investigate what help and support is being provided by the main energy companies in the UK. 

UPDATE 21/09/22: The new Prime Minister Liz Truss has announced a two-year ‘Energy Price Guarantee’ from 1st October.

The cap applies to the price energy companies are allowed to charge per unit of electricity and gas on standard tariffs. For a typical household, this could mean paying a maximum or around £2,500 a year. But a lot of households aren’t ‘typical’. Find out more below in our section on grants, schemes and other financial support.

From Tuesday 20th September 2022, people on certain disability benefits will receive a one-off payment of £150 to help with extra care and mobility costs.

The government has also announced today a package of measures for businesses, which will cut energy costs by half for the next six months. (See more details in our grants, schemes and other financial support section).

6 ways to save money on your energy bill

While most of us wish and wait for more financial support and for prices to stay down, there are a number of everyday things you can do to save money on your energy bill.

1. Use your microwave instead of your oven

Studies have found that using a microwave instead of an oven to cook certain foods will consume less energy because it will only heat the food and not the air around it.

For example, cooking a jacket potato in a microwave uses 75% less energy than if you cooked it in an oven.

You’ll also save energy because it’s quicker than using an oven or stove. It’s also worth considering a slow cooker too, as they’re one of the most energy-efficient kitchen appliances.

There are a whole host of meals you can cook in a slow cooker – take a look at the BBC Good Food website for ideas.

2. Turn down radiators in rooms you don’t use

If there are rooms in your home that you don’t use, turn the radiators down so that you’re not wasting energy. For instance, if you spend most of your time in the lounge, then only heat that specific room.

You could install a smart heating system and smart radiator valves to do this. These allow you to turn your heating on and off, and adjust it at any time and in each room through your phone or smart speaker.

This is ideal if you’re disabled and cannot reach standard valves on the radiator. However, these systems do cost money to set up.

3. Have shorter showers or shower on alternate days

Heating your shower can use a significant amount of energy. To cut this, limit your shower time to four minutes or less.

A great way to do this is to listen to or sing a four-minute song. If you need some music inspiration, check out this four minutes shower hits playlist on Spotify. This can also save on your water bill too and water during this nationwide drought.

Alternatively, if you have a disability or health condition that means it takes you longer to shower, you could shower on alternate days to save energy and water. On the days you don’t shower, you could have a quick wash with a flannel or wet wipes.

An ideal item for this is the FreshWipes antibacterial body wipes, which are available to buy on the Disability Horizons Shop. Unlike general body wipes, FreshWipes are gentle and super-sized, designed for full body washes to help you keep clean.

4. Open curtains during the day and close curtains at dusk

During the winter months, let as much natural – and free – heat into your home as possible by harnessing sunlight.

When dusk falls, close your curtains to help your home retain the heat, although try not to drape them over radiators.

5. Turn off appliances you’re not using at the plug

We all know that appliances on standby will use energy, even though they’re not switched on or being used. You’re microwave, for example, will be using power for the screen display. So if you can turn these off, do so.

This goes for chargers too – if you leave your laptop, tablet or phone on charge when you’re not using it, especially if you do so overnight, it will consume energy.

Many devices charge within a couple of hours or less, so unplugging the device, and the charger, once it’s charged will save you money.

6. Turn down your thermostat

The simplest yet most effective way to save money on your energy bill is to turn down your thermostat by one degree. This could save you between £80 to £142 a year – based on the average previous energy prices.

The World Health Organisation says that 18 to 21°C are the most ideal temperatures in most households.

You’ll save even more if you don’t use your heating for as long, but we know that a lot of disabled people need their homes well-heated to maintain their health.

You could consider other ways to keep warm – take a look at our articles on 10 tips to help you keep warm if you have a disability – but you shouldn’t put your health at risk.

This is why help from energy companies (more on this below) and the Government is so important.

New Prime Minister Liz Truss has announced plans to help UK families with their energy prices today, 8th September. See further details below.

The additional impact of energy price rises on disabled people

Although energy-saving tips can be useful, they’re not as straightforward for many people with disabilities and health conditions.

Aside from essential mobility and medical equipment that people can’t go without, they may need to access smart gadgets to be independent, which need energy, and may not be able to manually adjust radiators or unplug devices.

Our writer, Emma Purcell, shares how she relies on smart technology and mobility equipment to live her day-to-day life:

“I use a ceiling hoist and a powered wheelchair that need to be charged regularly. I also have an electronic profile bed that sits me up and lays me down, and raises and lowers me to enable carers to carry out personal care and physio.

I have a selection of Amazon Echo smart speakers around the house that I use for multiple tasks, including turning lights and sockets on/off and opening and closing rolling blinds.

I use an Alexa as my radio, audiobook, clock, alarm, calculator, dictionary, thesaurus, news flash, intercom and so much more. Without my smart features, I’m unable to work, organise my life and access a lot of elements to live independently.”

Although smart technology is a great innovation for disabled people, it can waste energy. Even if you turn off a smart device via an app or smart speaker, it will still be running and using energy. Fortunately, most smart devices are energy efficient, but in this current climate, every penny really does count.

The Government and energy companies can’t ignore the fact that life costs more for disabled people and their families. This includes spending on essential goods and services, such as heating and insurance, as well as equipment and therapies.

Last week, we spoke to several disabled people caught up in this cost crisis, with many saying they have had to cut back on many essentials and stop paying for fuel and food just to make ends meet.

Energy for powering essential equipment, such as hoists, beds, breathing equipment, powered chairs and monitors, was already expensive. These are not optional extras that can be cut back. They are vital, often life-saving, equipment.

Grants, schemes and other financial support

New Prime Minister Liz Truss has announced a plan to tackle the energy crisis.

The plan includes freezing the annual energy price cap at £2,500 for typical UK households from 1st October for the next two years.

Now called the ‘energy price guarantee’, this isn’t actually the maximum amount you could end up paying. The price cap applies to the unit cost of energy on a standard tariff, so if you consume a lot, you may spend more than this.

The plan means that some businesses, such as hospitality, charities, schools and hospitals, will also have their bills capped for six months.

On 21st September, the government set a Supported Wholesale Price – expected to be £211 per megawatt-hour (MWh) for electricity and £75 per MWh for gas, less than half the wholesale prices anticipated this winter.

An additional £400 energy bill discount, known as the Energy Bills Support Scheme, will be paid to all households.

Energy suppliers will apply the discount to each household they supply electricity to over six months from October 2022 and it will not need to be paid back.

There is a further £650 ‘cost of living’ grant for ‘vulnerable’ households. This applies if you are on:

  • Universal Credit
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Income support
  • Working tax credit
  • Child tax credit
  • Pension credit

The money is tax-free and won’t affect your other benefits. There is no need to apply as payments will appear in your bank automatically.

The payments are being made in two installments. The first of £326 was given in July and the second for £324 will be made in autumn (the exact date is yet to be confirmed).

The only exception to this timeline is if you’re on child tax credit and working tax credit. You will receive the first payment in mid-September, and the second in winter (again, the exact date is still unknown).

Furthermore, people who receive the following disability benefits will receive a one-off payment of £150 from Tuesday 20th September:

    • Disability Living Allowance
    • Personal Independence Payment
    • Attendance Allowance
    • Scottish Disability Benefits
    • Armed Forces Independence Payment
    • Constant Attendance Allowance
    • War Pension Mobility Supplement

To get the £150 payment, you must have received payment (or later receive a payment) of one of these qualifying benefits as of 25th May 2022.

Pensioners will also receive a one-off payment of £300 in addition to their Winter Fuel Payment and on top of any other one-off support they are entitled to.

Do be aware that, scammers often try to use UK-wide issues to their advantage to try to obtain money or details from you. If you receive a communication asking for money or personal details, get in touch with the Department for Work and Pensions directly instead of replying.

There are also some Government grants you can see if you’re eligible for, and you might want to register with the Priority Services Register, a free support service to help people in vulnerable situations.

If you’re worried about your energy costs, visit the Ofgem website for advice and ways to get help. You can also find information at disabilitygrants.org and  sense.org.uk.

Plus, the disability charity Scope has its own dedicated Disability Energy Support service, which can provide tailored support such as managing energy debt and accessing benefits and grants.

If the price increases are impacting your mental health, there are many services and organisations offering help: Samaritans, Mind and Mental Health Foundation.

How are energy companies supporting customers?

With the rising cost of energy prices affecting millions of people, we investigate how some of the main energy companies are proposing to support their customers during this crisis, particularly those who have complex needs.

OVO

Created in 2009, OVO was set up to offer competitive prices, sustainable energy and easy-to-use services. Since then, it has grown to sign up five million members across its brands.

In 2020, OVO bought SSE’s retail arm SSE Energy Services. Ovo is currently in the process of migrating all SSE Energy Services customers to OVO.

On Thursday 1st September, OVO announced a £50 million customer support package to help people in need this winter. It will be given to customers who are struggling as a result of rising energy prices from the 1st of October and will include:

  • A payment holiday for debt repayment for all prepayment meter customers so that money goes directly towards heating, not paying back debt this winter.
  • 200% increase in emergency top-up credit for customers on prepayment meters and continued commitment to never disconnect a customer.
  • Free energy-saving products for customers’ homes, such as smart thermostats and electric throws – prioritised for those most in need.
  • Free boiler services worth £90 and a 20% discount for A-rated boilers to ensure boilers are working as efficiently as possible and to help prevent energy waste in the home.
  • Dedicated support for our customers in the most financial difficulty from a specialist team, including support for those in financial difficulty for the first time.

OVO also has a new partnership with the Trussell Trust to support food banks to meet increased needs this winter and help people facing hardship access practical support. It will also be continuing its partnership with StepChange to support people facing financial difficulty.

OVO has also set out a 10 Point Plan to address the energy crisis, which you can view on its website.

Octopus Energy

Set up in 2016, Octopus Energy has around three million customers worldwide and its good customer service has earned the energy company Which?’s Recommended Provider of the Year for five years in a row.

When the energy crisis began a few months ago, Octopus set up Octo Assist, an assistance fund that gives direct support to customers struggling the most with higher bills in the crisis. When the October price cap rise was announced by Ofgem, the fund doubled from £7.5 million to £15 million.

Customers can get help by filling in a Financial Assistance form and answering a few simple questions about their situation. Customers can also call 0808 164 1088 or email hello@octopus.energy. It also offers a video chat in British Sign Language.

Octopus can then offer several support options based on a customer’s circumstances and needs, including:

  • Access to existing schemes, monetary credits from the fund, or personalised account support (e.g. return of credit, payment holidays).
  • The lending of infrared cameras to customers to find leaks and draughts around their homes to avoid wasting energy.
  • Energy-efficient electric blankets to customers who need them most – particularly for people with mobility issues.
  • Advice through its ‘Winter Workout’, which offers energy-saving tips.
  • At-home energy consultations for ‘vulnerable’ customers. Octopus is currently visiting customers to help identify support and action that can help reduce bills, spot affordable and simple ways to improve home efficiency and signpost customers struggling to pay for the schemes. There will be a particular focus on customers with a medical dependency on power and/or heat.

Octopus is currently partnering with Mencap to offer information and advice on the cost of living for people with a learning disability.

Scottish Power

Scottish Power has around five million customers. First set up as a nationalised company in 1990, it was owned by the British government – until it was privatised a year later. Based in Glasgow, it’s been a mainstay of the UK energy market ever since.

Scottish Power has revealed to Disability Horizons the support it will provide all customers throughout this energy crisis. It includes:

  • Providing alternative payment options and tariffs for different customer circumstances and flexible repayment schemes for those who’ve built up debt.
  • Doubling the emergency credit available to £10 for customers and offering a voucher scheme for prepayment meter customers.
  • Working with partner organisations, such as food banks, to provide prepayment customers in financial hardship with meter credit that doesn’t need to be repaid.
  • Offering energy efficiency advice, benefit entitlement checks, replacement white good appliances and urgent heating repairs or replacements.

Scottish Power is setting up a dedicated ‘affordability team’ with specially trained customer service agents and is working closely with third-party organisations, such as Citizens Advice and StepChange, to help provide specialist debt advice.

Scottish Power also has an established team of Community Liaison Officers, who attend in-person visits wherever necessary to help offer advice and support to customers living with disabilities.

British Gas

The oldest and the biggest energy supplier in the UK, British Gas, has more than five million gas customers and six million electricity customers. It’s only been a private company since the 1990s (owned by Centrica), but its history goes back 200 years.

British Gas has announced that it will donate 10% of all profits to the British Gas Energy Support Fund – an independent charity that delivers advice and support services for all UK energy consumers – to provide grants to customers for the duration of the energy crisis.

These are expected to average £750 per household and go to thousands of customers most in need.

So far, it has donated £18 million to the British Gas Energy Support Fund. It also gives £6 million annually to the British Gas Energy Trust for all consumers and has made an additional £2 million investment through the British Gas Energy Trust to fund another 20 money advice centres.

EDF Energy

EDF Energy has more than five million customers in the UK. It is the UK’s largest producer of low-carbon electricity, meeting around one-fifth of the country’s demand and supplying millions of customers with electricity and gas.

It generates low-carbon electricity from six nuclear power stations and more than 30 onshore wind farms and two offshore wind farms, and operates one coal power station, EV charge-points, and combined heat and power plants.

On 23rd August, EDF Energy announced new support measures, specifically created to help those most in need.

EDF is contacting more than 100,000 of its most ‘vulnerable’ customers to outline the support packages available. These include:

  • Using smart prepayment meters that allow customers to top up energy from anywhere and track usage.
  • Helping smart meter customers monitor their energy usage more closely with its free Energy Hub, a platform that can give real-time insights into energy usage and show customers how savings can be made.
  • Advising those with existing debt who are not able to repay the costs through its Fresh Start campaign.

This comes on top of help announced earlier this year that saw the energy provider double customer support to £10 million. In addition to this, £20 million of funding was brought forward to insulate homes across the UK and customers were helped to identify £3.6million of additional financial aid they were entitled to, with the help of partner Income Max.

E.ON

E.ON has around six million customers. As well as supplying energy to customers, it also offers a range of sustainable solutions to help customers lower their energy use.

E.ON Next is the newest face of E.ON, providing renewables-backed electricity, sustainably focused tariffs and customer service through a team of dedicated Energy Specialists.

E.ON Next provides ongoing support to people struggling financially, that is tailored to the individuals specific context, and there are a range of ways E.ON Next can help, these include:

  • Helping to set up an affordable payment plan that’s suitable for the customer.
  • Helping to reduce someone’s usage with energy efficiency advice and its Affordable warmth schemes.
  • Offering the Priority Services Register (PSR) for customers who need extra help with managing their energy account.
  • Giving support and guidance for all energy needs, including partners to provide specific debt advice.

There is also the E.ON Energy Fund, which has been set up to help the most ‘vulnerable’ existing or previous customers of E.ON Energy.

The Fund can help pay current or final E.ON energy bill arrears to customers living in England, Scotland or Wales. It can also help E.ON customers by providing replacement inefficient household items, such as cookers, fridges, fridge-freezers and washing machines, and also help to replace gas boilers.

If a customer or someone in the customer’s household is elderly, disabled or chronically sick, or if they have a speech, visual or hearing impairment, E.ON Next offers a range of services that will help to make managing your energy easier.

Other energy companies

We understand there are many more energy suppliers across the UK, such as Bulb, Avro Energy, Igloo Energy, Powershop, Sainsbury’s Energy, So Energy, Utilto and many more.

If you’re with one of these or any other energy provider and have concerns about paying your energy bill, we suggest you contact your supplier and it is likely you can access advice and support.

By Disability Horizons 

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