With the energy prices rising and turmoil in parliament, 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.
Rishi Sunak was appointed the new Prime Minister in October 2022 following Liz Truss’ resignation. He has re-shuffled his cabinet but has kept Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered the spring budget on Wednesday 15th March 2023.
The budget included:
- Government subsidies limiting typical household energy bills to £2,500 a year extended for three months, until the end of June
- £200m to bring energy charges for prepayment meters into line with prices for customers paying by direct debit – affects 4m households
- New work capability assessment regime to qualify for health-related benefits
- New voluntary employment scheme for disabled people in England and Wales, called Universal Support
The energy cap applies to the price energy companies are allowed to charge per unit of electricity and gas on standard tariffs. As it currently stands, for a typical household, this could mean paying 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.
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.
The new spring budget, announced on 15th March 2023, should go some way to help households and the economy.
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
Former Prime Minister Liz Truss announced a plan to tackle the energy crisis.
The plan included freezing the annual energy price cap at £2,500 for typical UK households from 1st October.
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.
It’s capped at 34p per kilowatt hour for electricity, and 10.3p per kilowatt hour for gas. The standing charge for electricity is 46.4p a day and it is 28.5p for gas. This is on average and it varies by region.
Spring Budget 2023
The ‘Energy Price Guarantee’ was meant to last two years, but after the turmoil in the financial market following Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget in September 2022, which led to his sacking and the resignation of Liz Truss, new PM Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt initially announced the price cap will end in April 2023.
However, in Jeremy Hunt’s spring statement on 15th March 2023, he announced that the Energy Price Guarantee will be extended for another three months until July 2023, by which time the price of energy should have dropped sufficiently for it to become redundant.
Critics say the £3bn extra it will cost the government to continue the support would be better spent if targeted at those on lower incomes who really need it, as is the case with cost-of-living payments.
The £400 winter discount will end, with no plans to repeat it next winter.
Energy is regulated separately in Northern Ireland, where bills will be held at £1,950 per year for an average household.
Mr Hunt also revealed £200m will be spent to bring energy charges for prepayment meters into line with prices for customers paying by direct debit, affecting 4 million households.
Other announcements made in the spring budget included the publishing of a white paper on disability benefits, which includes plans to abolish the work capability assessment and to separate benefits entitlement from an individual’s ability to work.
As a result, Hunt says, disabled benefit claimants will always be able to seek work without fear of losing financial support.
In future there will only be one health and disability assessment – the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) assessment.
The Government has also launched a new system called “Universal Support”, which will provide £4,000 worth of support funding for a disabled person each year to help them find work.
Jeremy Hunt said 50,000 disabled people a year will be supported with this new scheme.
The Chancellor has also allocated £400million in funding to increase the availability of mental health and musculoskeletal resources for workers – meaning the money will support people to continue in work despite being diagnosed with a physical or mental health condition.
Autumn Budget 2022
Back in November 2022, it was announced that people on means-tested benefits will get another cost of living payment of £900. In addition, people on disability benefits will get an extra £150 payment and pensioners will get another £300 payment.
Furthermore, benefits and pensions will rise with inflation by 10.1%, which will cost £11 billion a year.
NHS budgets and social care funding is set to grow with a total of approximately £13.5 billion being spent in the next two years.
In detail, this includes social care grants of £1 billion in 2023 and £1.7 billion in 2024, combined with funding of £2.8 billion in 2023 and £4.7 billion in 2024. The NHS budget will get a further £3.3 billion in England for the next two years.
Other announcements made in the autumn budget include:
- UK national living wage for people over 23 to increase from £9.50 to £10.42 an hour from next April
- Top 45% additional rate of income tax will be paid on earnings over £125,140, instead of £150,000
- Income tax personal allowance and higher rate thresholds frozen for a further two years, until April 2028
- Main National Insurance and inheritance tax thresholds are also frozen for a further two years, until April 2028
- Tax-free allowances for dividend and capital gains tax are also due to be cut next year and in 2024
- Local councils in England will be able to hike council tax up to 5% a year without a local vote, instead of 3% currently
- Windfall tax on profits of oil and gas firms increased from 25% to 35% and extended until March 2028
- New “temporary” 45% tax on companies that generate electricity, to apply from January
- The Government will also give extra funding for healthcare and education to the devolved nations with £1.5bn in Scotland, £1.2bn in Wales and £650m to Northern Ireland.
Earlier cost of living support
On 21st September, the government set a Supported Wholesale Price. This means that some businesses, such as hospitality, charities, schools and hospitals, will also have their bills capped for six months.
An additional £400 energy bill discount, known as the Energy Bills Support Scheme, is being paid to all households.
Energy suppliers are applying 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 also currently 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 £326 was given in July and the second £324 will be made the autumn.
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.
Furthermore, people who receive the following disability benefits have received 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.
On Thursday 29th September, the UK government announced a Help to Heat funding package.
Around 130,000 low-income households across England could see bills slashed by around £400 to £700 a year as their homes receive energy efficiency upgrades through the government’s latest Help to Heat funding.
Up to £1.5 billion is being made available through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and Home Upgrade Grant schemes, allowing social housing providers and local authorities to submit bids for funding to upgrade the properties of around 130,000 low-income and social households.
The funding will see the installation of measures such as external wall and loft insulation, energy-efficient doors and windows, heat pumps and solar panels, with multiple measures often being installed in a single home to considerably improve the energy performance.
Local authorities and social housing providers will be able to submit bids for funding and will deliver upgrades from early next year until March 2025, building on more than 30,000 homes already being upgraded under the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and Home Upgrade Grant schemes.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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 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.
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 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 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.
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