Why do households need to take control over their energy bills?
The UK has some of the oldest and worst insulated housing stock in all of Europe. Because of this there are millions of people across the UK who cannot afford to adequately heat their homes during winter, because it is simply too expensive to do so.
For homes that have draughty windows and minimal insulation, much of the heat that comes out of their radiators is simply lost to the air outside. This is not only a waste of heat, but a waste of money as well.
The recent historic increase in gas prices will inevitably lead to millions more households having to face the impossible choice between heating and eating.
Whilst there is not ‘silver bullet’ for addressing this issue, there are a variety of actions available which can empower households to improve the energy performance of their home and to cut the cost of spiralling energy bills.
1 - Warm Home Discount
The Warm Home Discount is a credit payment of £140 given to eligible customers to make heating their home more affordable over winter. If you receive Pension Credit, you will automatically receive this.
You may be eligible for the Warm Home Discount if you are the recipient of some kind of Income Benefit in addition to someone who lives in the household wo is at rosk from living in a cold home (children aged 5 or under, someone of pensionable age, or someone with a mental or physical disability).
You can usually apply directly to your energy supplier from September to December and the payment will be issued between January and March, but you need to do it every year in order to qualify.
Unfortunately, not all energy suppliers offer the Warm Home Discount and funds are issued on a ‘first come first served’ basis, but our experienced advisers are here to offer you further information or assistance that you might need while applying.
All of our advice is free and totally impartial.
2 - Priority Services Register
The Priority Services Register (PSR) is a free service provided by suppliers and network operators designed to give vulnerable customers access to the services they need. The list of services and benefits is quite long and varies by energy supplier. It could include anything from meter reading services at appropriate intervals to free gas safety checks, meter relocations, and assistance with billing (large-format or Braille bills). Individuals on the Priority Services Register can also expect advanced notices of interruptions to their service, and priority attention during a power cut.
There are no clear-cut definitions regarding who qualifies. You’ll normally be able to get priority services if your energy companies class you as ‘vulnerable’.
You could be classed as vulnerable if you are disabled or have a long-term health condition, are recovering from an injury, have mental health problems, have children under 5 or are pregnant, have reached your State Pension age.
Each energy supplier and/or network operator is responsible for maintaining its own Priority Services Register, subject to the definitions of vulnerability. No proof of your disability, impairment, or age is required, allowing more people to access PSR benefits.
You need to contact your energy supplier to get on the Priority Services Register since each energy supplier and network operator maintains its own register.
3 - Smart Meters
Smart meters are by far the most contentious issues within our talks about how to save money on energy bills while keeping a warm home.
The rollout of smart meters is considered to be a key pillar in the UK’s transition to a ‘Distributed Energy Network’, but there are actually both pros and cons regarding the use of these instruments.
Smart meters send a customer’s meter readings automatically to their energy supplier, meaning you never need to give a meter reading manually again. This will bring an end to the widespread practice of estimated billing and will ensure that energy customers are only billed for what they have actually used. Customers will also be given an ‘In Home Display’ which presents real time data on the cost of their energy. This can help to encourage a better understanding of energy saving behaviours.
However, there is not one single type of smart meter that is being installed in all homes across the country. Different suppliers use different types of meter, and these are not always compatible with one another. Some of them only work with the supplier that installed them, and will lose their smart functionality if a customer decides to switch.
BHESCo have seen many examples of occasions where, because a customer has had a smart meter installed by one company, they are unable to switch to a new tariff with a different supplier.
We have written to Citizens Advice and Ofgem about this matter and are advising customers to avoid getting any SMETS1 meters installed.
The real benefits of smart meters will become apparent with the unstoppable rise of renewable energy technologies with battery storage coupled with the emergence of smart technologies.
Feel free to contact BHESCo if you have any concerns or queries about getting a smart meter fitted.
4 - Tackling Energy Debt
Energy arrears are a ‘priority debt’ which means you need to pay them before debts like credit cards because they could have more serious consequences (disconnection from energy supply).
Non-priority debts include for example payday loans, water bills, unsecured bank loans, credit card debts. There are less serious consequences if you can’t pay these debts, however, you could still face legal action if you don’t deal with them.
If you’re struggling to afford your gas and electricity bills, contact your supplier to discuss ways to pay what you owe them. If you pay for your energy after you use it, for example by monthly direct debit or quarterly bill, you could agree on a payment plan with your supplier and pay off your debts in instalments.
You’ll pay fixed amounts over a set period of time, meaning you’ll pay what you can afford. The payment plan will cover what you owe plus an amount for your current use. If you can’t afford to top up your meter you can get temporary credit. Your supplier might add the temporary credit to your meter automatically, but if they don’t, you should ask for it as soon as you can. You’ll pay back a bit of the debt each time you top up your meter.
BHESCo recommends that anyone in the Brighton and Hove area who is struggling to manage their finances should comtact Money Advice Plus – a local financial support agency who offer free advice to help residents maximise income and manage their finances.
5 - Project Wenceslas
BHESCo will be partnering with the Brighton & Hove Lions Club, once again launching Project Wenceslas, a campaign to help local residents who are falling into debt with their energy supplier. People in difficulty will be contacting agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, Age UK and BHESCo who will refer them to Brighton Lions.
Direct applications will not be accepted to ensure all the donated money goes to the people who really need help with fuel poverty. Brighton Lions will make payments directly to the energy supply companies, not the individual beneficiaries, whose details will not be known to the Lions. For more information regarding the project and donations, read more here.
The Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme (DESSS) also provides emergency help in certain situations and for general debt advice, you might also contact Money Advice Plus.
6 - Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards & EPCs
Recent changes to Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) are a crucial step in helping the UK Government meet its carbon emissions targets, and will have a big impact on landlords in Brighton and Hove: a huge amount of work is needed to upgrade ageing and inefficient buildings.
To encourage property owners to undertake energy performance improvements, the Government made it unlawful since April 2020 to lease any property which has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of F or G.
An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) indicates the energy efficiency of a property, it is evaluated using a scale from zero to 100, is separated into bands ranging from A to G and it lasts 10 years. In addition to providing an overall score for the energy performance of your property, and EPC will identify where improvements can be made to improve energy efficiency. All domestic and commercial buildings in the UK are required to have an EPC for the purposes of renting or selling a property.
Landlords, Buy-To-Let investors and property owners must ensure that all properties are up to a minimum energy efficiency rating of E or be faced with the prospect of heavy fines and an inability to continue to let the property. There is ample funding available to cover the cost of improvements which will increase property value and enhance tenant comfort and well-being.
Landlords in Brighton and Hove who have any concerns should contact BHESCo to request an energy survey of the property and to identify the most cost-effective measures to improve energy performance.
7 - Energy Improvement Surveys
Our philosophy is that optimising the energy efficiency of a property must come before all other considerations. To identify opportunities for improving the energy efficiency of a property it is vital to gain a complete understanding of energy demand and consumption patterns. This can be done through a bespoke BHESCo on-site energy survey which will provide a detailed examination of every aspect involved with heating and powering your property.
An energy survey should be considered by property owners who are interested in understanding their heat and power consumption and in making improvements to the energy performance of their building. The cost of a BHESCo energy survey is dependent on the size of a property. In light of the Coronavirus, we have also reviewed every aspect of our Health and Safety system and work processes. Our Energy Saving Team will conduct all surveys wearing full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), will make use of hand sanitiser, and wherever possible, will complete an energy survey when a property is unoccupied.
In addition to delivering surveys for those who are Able to Pay, BHESCo will be partnering with Brighton & Hove City Council to offer a free home energy survey and free energy saving measures to 70 households in the Brighton and Hove area. Our interventions will aim to tackle draughts and damp as well as reducing energy bills for residents.
The programme is directed towards those on a low-income or where a family member is vulnerable to cold conditions (e.g. children under 5, elderly, lives with a disability).