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 effect on their bills. Juggling the twin demands of caring and working can mean more gas and electricity is used but less money's coming in to pay for it.
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Uswitch research has found that more than a third (35%) of informal carers have struggled to pay their energy bills. Worryingly, the same percentage have even been pushed into debt as a direct result of paying their utility bills, and 21%, at times, have 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 ways to alleviate some of the pressure of increased bills when caring for a friend or family member:
Ask your supplier what initiatives or schemes it runs 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. Here's what some of the largest energy suppliers offer:
British Gas - as well as all the usual ways of helping people with energy payments, including payment plans, the possibility of installing a prepayment meter and so on, the British Gas Energy Trust also helps clear energy debts for customers who are struggling and pays for new energy efficient appliances
EDF Energy - along with the Priority Services Register, EDF works with various third-party organisations to support customers with managing their money, increasing income through financial benefits and helping with energy debts via a Customer Support Fund
E.ON Next - in addition to the Priority Services Register, there is also an Energy Fund available to help the most vulnerable customers
OVO - customers having trouble paying their energy bills are supported in a range of ways, including coming up with payment plans, giving guidance, taking payment directly via schemes like Fuel Direct, providing help via the OVO Energy Fund and more
Octopus - along with the usual ways of supporting customers who require help managing their bills, Octopus has set up a £2.5 million Octo Assist Fund for customers specifically to help through the winter of 2021-22
ScottishPower - among other measures, ScottishPower offers advice and support when it comes to paying energy bills and devising payment plans. It also has a Hardship Fund designed to help reduce or clear arrears for those customers most in need.
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 here.
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. Find out how to bleed your radiator here.
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 £60 per year.
Standby savings: Switch off the tech; leaving televisions and games consoles on permanent standby costs up to £70 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 11% of your electricity bill. Installing five low energy light bulbs is low-cost and could save at least £20 a year depending on wattage. 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: Though it's not currently possible for most customers to do so, switching energy supplier used to be a reliable way of saving money.
Warm Home Discount: you could get £150 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 would 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.
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 seven-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 25 September 1956 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).
You can find out if you're eligible for any government energy schemes by using our interactive tool here.