How to get help with paying your energy bills and cut down your usage if you’re working from home – The Sun
HOUSEHOLDS who face bigger energy bills while in lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak can get help if they're struggling with the extra costs.
Millions of workers have now ditched the office in favour of working from home following government orders banning all unnecessary travel.
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And while employees continue to observe the social distancing rules, households are seeing bills rise as their energy consumption increases.
Sarah Broomfield, energy expert at Uswitch.com, said: "Most people’s energy bills are likely to be higher than usual as workers and children stay at home, with kettles boiling for extra cups of tea, the heating on round the clock, and computers, TVs and tablets working overtime.
"Our research found that households could see their bills rise by around £16 a month on average during the lockdown, with people using an estimated 25 per cent more electricity and 17 per cent more gas every day."
Here we take you through what help you can get with the cost of your energy bills and how you can reduce them by cutting down your usage:
Speak to your provider
The first thing you should do if you're struggling to pay your bills is speak to your provider as they may be able to help you ease the pressure on your finances.
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Gas and electricity suppliers have made an agreement with the government to keep Brits connected during the outbreak, even if they can't afford to pay their bills.
They may offer customers a new and affordable payment plan, evening if you are repaying debts, spread out over a longer period of time or reducing or pausing bills when necessary.
You can find out exactly what you energy supplier, including British Gas, EDF Energy and NPower, is doing to help vulnerable customers through this uncertain period here.
It's important to remember that if you can't afford to pay your bill, no supplier will cut you off during the COVID-19 outbreak but you should also let them know that you're in financial difficulty.
If you're on a prepayment metre
Those who pay for their gas and electricity on a prepayment metre can rest assured that disconnection as a result of not being able to afford to top up has been suspended during the lockdown.
The government says that this will help four million energy customers.
This doesn't mean that you won't have to pay the bill though and you may face repaying the charges at a later date.
You will also need to speak to your supplier if you can't top up for whatever reason.
If you're in quarantine or fall into the high-risk category and are self-isolating then you can nominate a friend or family member to pay for your top-ups on your behalf.
You may also be able to get a discretionary fund added to their credit or be sent a pre-loaded top up card so that their supply isn't interrupted – but these will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by your supplier.
Health Through Warmth scheme
This scheme was set up in 2000, working together with fuel poverty charity National Energy Action and the NHS.
It aims to improve warmth, comfort and quality of life for vulnerable people who have cold-related illnesses and need help with installing heating and insulation, or making repairs to existing systems or appliances which they can’t afford themselves.
It can also help tackle any debts you may have built up.
HTW is available across England and Wales to vulnerable people who meet the eligibility criteria.
What to do if you can't pay your bills
FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.
If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.
Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.
One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable installments.
You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.
A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.
To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income support
- income-related employment and support allowance
- Pension credit
- Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)
If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.
In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.
You will need to fill in an online referral form, which is on the Npower website here.
You do not have to be an Npower customer to qualify, but you will be asked to provide evidence of a long-term illness, and details about your income and savings.
You may be able to get a budgeting loan from the Social Fund to help with intermittent expenses.
You're more likely to be eligible if you receive pension credit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance or income-related employment and support allowance.
Universal Credit claimants will need to apply for a budgeting advance – these are interest free loans, but must be paid back.
You will need to have been receiving benefits for more than six months before applying.
The payments are designed to help with intermittent expenses which are difficult to budget for, such as the cost of installing a prepayment meter or connection charges if you move home.
Grants – to clear your arrears
You might be able to get help from your local authority through "housing renewal insurance" or through local welfare provision schemes.
Some might be able to help with heating costs or emergencies, such as a boiler breakdown.
Check to see what support your local authority provides and check whether it is a loan or a grant before you accept anything.
If there is a Home Improvement Agency, it may be able to apply to its charitable arm, the Foundations Independent Living Trust, for grants to help make your home warmer.
Some suppliers have charitable trusts or funding schemes to help when things go wrong.
Some only offer grants to their customers, while others such as British Gas have schemes that are open to anyone.
To apply you'll have to give details of your financial situation and Citizens' Advice recommends getting help from charity Charisgrants.com.
Additionally, the Energy Saving Trust website has detailed information on how to save energy at home.
If you live in Scotland, visit the Energy Saving Trust Scotland website.
How to lower the cost of your energy bill
You can ease the financial pressure of rising energy bills when working from home by being savvy with your usage, according to the experts. Here's how:
Switch the lights off in rooms you're not working in – Save over £14 a year
According to Energy Saving Trust, making sure that you turn the lights off in rooms that you're not working in could save you £14 a year on your annual energy bills.
Take control of your heating – Save over £80 a year
Turning the heating down by just one degree could save you £80 a year on your energy bill.
The recommended temperature for working from home is 21°C but if you're moving around a lot you might be better off setting your temperature to 18°C, according to boiler manufacturers Worcester Bosche.
Setting your thermostat to only come on when the temperature drops below a set amount will also help cut your bills, compared with having the heating on constantly, as will turning off the radiators in rooms that you're not working in.
Pulling furniture away from radiators will also heat the room up quicker, while pulling your home desk set up away from the window will help stop the heat from escaping.
Switch appliances off standby – Save £30 a year
Almost all electrical appliances can be turned off at the plug without upsetting their programming, according to the Energy Trust.
As a result of turning off your TV, radio or computer when you're not using it you could shave £80 a year off your bill.
Replacing all bulbs with LEDS – Save £35 a year
It can cost the average household £100 to replace all of their halogen light bulbs with energy efficient LED ones, which at first seems like it outweighs the benefit of saving £35 a year.
But these bulbs last longer so there's less need to replace them so many times – plus you will have already made your money back after three years.
Why not start small and replacing the light bulbs in the room that you're working in to cut costs.
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