Most of us are feeling the pinch of these tough financial times. This isn’t improved by the prospect of another cold winter. However, there are several steps that we may be able to take to save energy and money. These are listed at the end of this post.
What about the most vulnerable members of society? The disabled, unemployed, pensioners, lone parents are struggling to make ends meet during the uncertainty of welfare reform. Living in fuel poverty, defined as spending 10% or more of household income on fuel to heat your home (Energy Action Scotland), they are not always in a position to take appropriate action on fuel bills. They remain in the trap of fuel poverty. Here are some examples of our clients’ problems:
Mrs B has no bank account so cannot set up a Direct Debit and receive the associated discounts… A cheaper online account is not possible for Mr S who has no internet connection (or know-how!)… Miss A has little prospect of switching supplier until the £1,000 arrears on her prepayment meter are cleared.
In my role as an Affordable Warmth Advisor seeing clients in the community, I have been aware of more clients than ever before requesting help with fuel debt. There have been several national insulation schemes over recent years that have fitted insulation in many people’s homes. This helps address part of the problem for some but our experience tells us clients continue to face issues affording their fuel bills. Our day-to-day work of alleviating fuel poverty focuses more and more on fuel billing problems and debt management, rather than referring clients to have their homes insulated as more often than not this has already been installed.
We find it incredibly frustrating not to be able to improve every single client’s situation. For some, we can only try to equip them with the life skills to survive fuel poverty rather than being able to solve all their problems. Essentially, we are able to provide straightforward advice and support. This can be teaching people how to take a meter reading, or negotiating a lower debt repayment amount on their prepayment meter, that can lead to an improvement in managing fuel costs with resulting benefit to many.
Energy prices have never been higher and, according to some reports, they are likely to rise further. Until we have a reliable, affordable, clean, renewable energy source the future is worrying. Fuel poverty could be the stark reality for many more of us in the months and years ahead.
Recommended steps to take to save energy and money:
- Use your programmer to set your heating and hot water to come on only when you need it.
- Set your hot water thermostat to 60°C and your room thermostat to between 18° and 21°C.
- Get your home insulated. It could be free. For free energy efficiency advice call your local Energy Saving Scotland advice centre on 0800 512 012.
- Take regular meter readings and submit them to your supplier to avoid inaccurate bills.
- Generally, the cheapest gas and electricity deals are for online, dual fuel accounts paid by direct debit.
- Investigate switching supplier for a better deal. There are many comparison websites such as Switch with Which, energyhelpline, uSwitch
- Call your supplier to see if you qualify for the Warm Homes Discount.