Informal carers, who help look after vulnerable friends or family members with very little or no financial support, are paying energy bills that are, on average, £176 higher per year than other bill payers.
An estimated 4.9 million people in the UK act as informal carers, providing support that is not part of a paid job. Many informal carers live with vulnerable friends or family, which can have an affect on their bills.
Juggling the twin demands of caring and working, can mean more gas and electricity is used while having less income to pay for it.
uSwitch research has found that almost four in 10 informal carers have struggled to pay their energy bills. Worryingly, more than one in ten have even been pushed into debt as a direct result of paying their utility bills, and over a third have, at times, chosen not to put the heating on because they couldn’t afford it – potentially to the detriment of their health or the person they care for.
Here are some of the ways to alleviate some of the pressure of increased bills when caring for a friend or family member:
Supplier support for vulnerable consumers
Ask your supplier what initiatives or schemes they run that could help you. Customers who have a serious medical condition, who are in a vulnerable situation, or who have additional communication needs are eligible for help through their energy supplier’s Priority Services Register.
Either they or their carer can register in order to access services such as advance notification of a planned power cut, or priority help in an emergency such as an interruption to supply. To register, you or your carer simply need to contact your energy supplier.
Suppliers also have additional support available, this is what some of the largest energy suppliers offer:
- British Gas runs a programme to support customers with Dementia and offers those requiring extra support the opportunity to join its Priority Services Register. The British Gas Energy Trust also helps clear energy debts for customers who are struggling and pays for new energy efficient appliances. Read about British Gas's programme
- E.ON provides benefit entitlement checks and access to hardship funds for customers whom it identifies as potentially vulnerable. Read more about E.ON's Energy Fund
- EDF Energywill subsidise some insulation costs to help make homes warmer. Read more about EDF Energy's Trust
- npower’s Macmillan Fund caps energy bills for customers living with cancer and struggling with their energy bills. Read more about npower's Macmillan Fund
- ScottishPower runs a hardship fund to help customers who may have difficulties paying their bills. Read more about ScottishPower's Hardship Fund
- SSE offer discounts on loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and new A-rated condensing gas boilers. Read more about SSE's discounts on energy efficiency measures here
- First Utility can arrange payment plans for customers who are struggling to make their payments and are not eligible for the Warm Home Discount and put them in contact with Step Change, a debt charity. Read more about First Utility's payment plan options
- OVO Energy runs a fund to help its customers are behind on their energy payments and need help getting out of debt. Read more about OVO Energy's fund
Energy saving in the home
Read your meter: uSwitch research found that more than a fifth of households don’t submit regular energy meter readings to their supplier, risking inaccurate bills. Once they provided a reading, two thirds of Brits found that they were owed £161 on average. Get help reading your meter
Bleed your radiators: Trapped air in radiators stops them working efficiently. If there are cold spots on your radiators, particularly at the top, it’s a sign they need bleeding. This releases the air and ensures your heating system is working to its full potential. Step-by-step guide to bleeding your radiator
Lower the temperature: around 90% of a washing machine's energy expenditure is spent on heating the water, so the lower the temperature, the more money you save. And if it’s safe to do so, turning your thermostat down by 1 degree Celsius can save you as much as £85 per year.
Standby savings: Switch off the tech; leaving televisions and games consoles on permanent standby costs £45-80 a year and we waste nearly £29m per year in this country by leaving our phone chargers switched on even though we're not charging our phones.
Go green: Switch the energy saving settings on for your TV, computer, games consoles and any other devices - and make sure you turn them off properly when you're not using them. They'll use a third less energy this way. Three quarters of us (76%) leave appliances on standby, wasting a whopping £227m per year.
Water pressure: A high-pressure power shower is a great luxury to have but you'd be surprised how much hot water they use - sometimes even more than a bath.
Energy saving: Lighting can account for as much as 20% of your electricity bill. Installing five low energy light bulbs will cost about £15 and could save you as much as £32 a year. LED bulbs are the most energy efficient - they use up to 90% less energy, and can last up to 50,000 hours (that's over five and a half years if left on continuously).
Insulation: Insulating your home is one of the best ways to reduce your energy bills and make your house warmer and more comfortable. There are grants available from some energy suppliers under a scheme called the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO), you must meet certain criteria to qualify and more information is available from suppliers’ websites.
Chimneys: Unused chimneys are another common way for heat to escape. If you still use your chimney, then a removable chimney balloon can be used to prevent excess heat being lost at times you don’t have the fire on. If you don't use your chimney at all, consider having it capped by a professional.
Windows: Draught-proofing strips work well around windows. Draughts can also emerge from cracks between the window frames and the surrounding walls. If this is the case, try using either sealant or putty to close up the gaps.
Doors: Draught-proofing strips are also useful between doors and their frames, both internally as well as externally. For gaps between the bottom of the door and the floor, you can buy a special 'brush' or hinged flap draught excluder.
Timed extractor fan: If you have an extractor fan in your bathroom or kitchen without a timer, you run the risk of leaving it on unnecessarily, which can chill your whole house. A timed extractor fan will shut off automatically and remove this risk.
A radiator shelf: A shelf positioned just above a radiator helps to throw heat forward into the room, rather than letting it rise to the ceiling. Most hardware and DIY shops will stock purpose-made shelves which clip easily onto most radiators.
Disused vents: If you upgrade your boiler, it’s likely to have a balanced flue, meaning you no longer need an air-brick in an external wall with the boiler. If you seal up any disused vents you can stop valuable heat from escaping.
Curtains: Curtains are great at preventing heat loss. You can buy heavy-duty curtains, or thermal lining for your existing ones, for extra insulation. But try not to let your curtains hang over any radiators, as this can stop the heat from warming the room.
Switch: Switching energy supplier can save you up to £447 but to make sure you don’t run the risk of losing your Warm Home Discount you can call the uSwitch call centre on 0800 6888 557 and we’ll check the details for you.
Extra help from government schemes
Warm Home Discount: you could get £140 off your electricity bill under the Warm Home Discount Scheme. This is a discount directly applied to your bill each year. Not all suppliers participate in the scheme, so it's important to check you're with a supplier that does if you think you owuld be eligible for the discount.
You are eligible if you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit, or you’re on a low income and meet your energy supplier’s criteria for the scheme.
uSwitch is calling for this support system to be made more effective. By automatically enrolling eligible households in the Warm Home Discount rather than making them apply, and by requiring all energy suppliers to pay it rather than just the largest, vulnerable customers will be able to access the cheapest tariffs without fear of losing financial support.
Cold Weather Payment: For those who qualify, the Cold Weather Payment is a government grant given when the temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius for one consecutive week.
You’ll get £25 for each 7 day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.
If you're eligible, you'll be automatically paid.
Winter Fuel Payment: If you were born on or before 5 November 1953 you could get between £100 and £300 to help you pay your heating bills.
You usually get a Winter Fuel Payment automatically if you are eligible dependent on the State Pension or another social security benefit (excluding Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Child Benefit or Universal Credit).
Carers Week information
Carers Week is a national campaign that aims to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges carers face and recognise the contribution that carers make to families and communities across the UK.
uSwitch.com is proud to be raising awareness of the support available to carers. During Carers Week 2018 anyone calling the uSwitch helpline on 0800 6888 557 will be offered energy saving and insulation tips. You can also call our helpline for more information on which suppliers offer the Warm Home Discount and the eligibility criteria.
You can find more information about Carers Week and the partners they work with on the Carers Week website.