New studies have found that more than a third of the 5 million informal carers in the UK are struggling to pay energy bills as a direct result of their additional costs of their responsibilities. Nearly half of those surveyed reported receiving no financial support from the Government, causing many prominent players in the industry to call for more support for both registered and informal carers across the UK.
In the meantime, what financial support should carers be aware of?
What help is currently available for carers’ energy bills?
Winter Fuel Payments
The Winter Fuel Payment scheme is a designed to help older people cover the additional costs of energy during the winter months. This payment is between £100 and £300, depending on your circumstances during the week out of the year chosen for assessment (usually early Autumn). If you’re looking after an elderly person, they are very likely to be eligible. The payment is all tax free and has no effect on any other subsidies.
The full eligibility criteria can be found here.
Cold Weather Payments
This one is only going to come up in especially cold weather. If you or the person you care for fills the criteria, the household can get £25 a week between November and March, but only if the temperature in your area is forecasted or recorded as being below freezing for 7 consecutive days.
The Cold Weather Payments don’t require any kind of lengthy application process either, the payments are made automatically to those on qualifying benefits. Having said that, if you or the person you care for receive Income Support/Jobseeker’s Allowance/Employment Support Allowance AND have a child under 5, you should make the Job/Pension Centre aware to ensure that you receive the payments.
Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount Scheme gives pensioners at risk of fuel poverty a one-off discount of around £140 (it changes every year) on an their energy bills between October and March. There are 2 ways to qualify for the Warm Home Discount Scheme; if you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit (basically if you’re collecting your pension) then congratulations! You are part of what’s known as the ‘core group’. If you’re on a low income and meet your energy supplier’s criteria for the scheme – known as the ‘broader group’. How you apply for the Warm Home Discount Scheme depends on how you qualify for the discount, but you have to reapply every year. It’s also worth noting that you can still take advantage of this scheme even if you use a pre-pay or pay-as-you-go electricity meter; a lot of energy companies use a voucher system for this.
No-one’s going to get rich off this payment, but it is the equivalent of a couple of months’ bills, which could help if money’s tight! £140 could be a considerable chunk if you consider that (figures correct as of August 2016) the average monthly bill is £60-£70 for a small house or flat with one or two bedrooms and one or two occupants – and considerably higher for larger households.
The following energy companies are part of the Warm Home Discount scheme:
- Atlantic – see SSE
- Bristol Energy
- British Gas
- Bulb Energy
- Co-operative energy
- Economy Energy
- EDF Energy
- Extra Energy
- First Utility
- Flow Energy
- GB Energy – see Co-operative energy
- Green Star/Hudson
- Manweb – see ScottishPower
- M&S Energy – see SSE
- Our Power
- Sainsbury’s Energy – see British Gas
- Scottish Gas – see British Gas
- Scottish Hydro – see SSE
- Southern Electric – see SSE
- Spark Energy
- SWALEC – see SSE
- Utility Warehouse
Energy Company Obligation (ECO)
What’s better than getting help paying your high energy bills? Preventing them in the first place, of course!
The Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) is a government scheme requiring some energy providers to provide grants for households to install measures in order for them to boost their energy efficiency and lower their energy bills. If you’re on certain benefits and own or privately rent your home, you might be able to get financial help for making energy-saving improvements to your home. Fairly simple – but often expensive – changes such as a new boiler or installing loft insulation can make a big difference to the thermal comfort of a property, and also to energy bills.
You can find out more about ECO here.
Private Energy Company Schemes
- 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.
- E.ON provides benefit entitlement checks and access to hardship funds for customers whom it identifies as potentially vulnerable.
- EDF Energy identifies customers who may require help and can offer referrals to partners like IncomeMax, or to the EDF Energy Trust Fund which has helped to lift thousands of customers out of arrears and the debt cycle. Eligible customers can be added to their Priority Services Register to access additional services including different bill formats, gas safety checks and a direct number into a specialist team for help.
- npower’s Macmillan Fund offers support to people living with cancer by capping energy bills and writing off debt. They also have a Health Through Warmth scheme that gives assistance to vulnerable people with long term health conditions and inadequate heating or insulation – they don’t even have to be npower customers to access Health Through Warmth.
- ScottishPower runs a hardship fund to help customers who may have difficulties paying their bills.
- SSE offer discounts on loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and new A-rated condensing gas boilers if customers meet certain criteria.
- First Utility’s customers can receive alerts about their best deals and energy saving advice through their ‘My Energy’ service. First Utility also supports customers going through difficult times by arranging payment plans and connecting them with Step Change – a debt charity that can offer further independent support and advice.
- Ovo runs a fund to help its customers who are behind on their energy payments and need help getting out of debt.
Keeping Energy Bills Down
We’re big believers that prevention is the best form of medicine when it comes to curing hefty energy bills. Check out some easy energy saving tips here.