Staying warm in winter is easier said than done and far too many of us are still faced with the stark choice of heating or eating because of a concern about the cost of our energy bills. A 2014 YouGov survey found that energy bills are the number one financial concern for households – but 66% of us think there’s little or nothing we can do about them.
Npower were told this month by energy regulator Ofgem to 'justify' to its customers plans to introduce one of the largest energy prices for years, which would see its standard electricity prices rise by 15% and gas prices by 4.8%. The government has said it was ‘concerned’, while a former boss of Npower also called the rise ‘shocking’.
In its defence, Npower blamed increases in wholesale energy costs and the cost of delivering government policies such as smart meters and the renewables obligation, saying it was the first time it had raised prices for three years, calling it a ‘difficult decision’ which they’ve ‘delayed the date this takes effect until after one of the coldest months of the year.’
With fluctuating energy costs, what support is available to you if you’re worried about your fuel bills? Well, several days before the Npower announcement the government published details of reforms to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme, which would see it extended to September 2018 and require energy companies to provide targeted support to households struggling to pay their bills.
A welcome move, but in Groundwork’s experience the most effective way of tackling the twin problems of cold homes and health is by providing tailored support through home visits, which can achieve significant added value and be especially cost-effective if more than one service is taken into the home, for example, energy advice, benefit checks and health visits.
We also think that support is most effective when operated at a community-level, as we have found that communities are especially creative and innovative around messaging about energy use; using local knowledge to adapt approaches to suit their audience in ways that are difficult for national organisations, especially energy companies.
Groundwork Green Doctors are independent energy experts that provide communities with that very advice.
Elwyn Jones, 83, from Wrexham was visited by one of our Green Doctors and feels that such a targeted approach made a major difference in helping him keep warm and access a range of additional services.
He said: "Our bungalow has always been quite cold…The Green Doctor installed a reflective panel behind the radiator to keep in the heat and, as our boiler is quite old, told us who we should speak to get a new one for free. He also told us we’d be entitled to a Warm Home Discount.
"I couldn’t believe it when he told me we could save over £900 a year simply by switching suppliers."
Meet one of our Green Doctors in the film below:
Post by Garry Campbell, Communications Manager