The cost of energy is a serious issue if you are disabled.
Sarah Jane has a visual impairment, arthritis, as well as a history of epilepsy and brain disorders. She needs plenty of light and gets cold easily. She estimates that her energy bills are doubled because of her impairment and need to keep warm. It has a huge effect on her life. As she says on her blog, “If you’re worried about the costs of simple daily activities like turning the light on or running a warm bath, it’s devastating.”
Huge numbers of disabled people are in the same boat and have to use more energy to stay warm because of their impairment or condition.
Whilst the average UK household spends £1,214 a year on energy, over a quarter of households with a disabled person spend more than £1,500 a year on their energy. This equates to a staggering 4.1 million households. Of these, 790,000 households spend over £2,500 a year on their energy.
It is little surprise then that there are 939,000 fuel poor households in England with a disabled person, constituting 38% of all fuel poor households.
That’s why Scope has high hopes for the new Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Act 2018, which will place a cap on the price of standard variable and default tariffs for a period of up to three years.
However, whilst this is a start, this measure will only go so far in reducing high energy costs for disabled people. Disabled people we speak to say they face a number of challenges as energy consumers - from navigating the market and finding the best deal, to getting the right support from energy suppliers. Addressing these barriers is critical to tackling the financial penalty for energy faced by disabled people.
We also need to see reform of schemes designed to support energy customers, such as the Warm Home Discount. This is a scheme which provides a one-off grant to certain customers for their energy bills – however, we want to see a change to the eligibility criteria to ensure more disabled people who face additional costs for their energy are able to access support.
The Conservative Party’s 2017 manifesto promised to “work with providers of everyday essential services, like energy and telecoms, to reduce the extra costs that disability can incur”. This is a welcome pledge which will help level the playing field for disabled consumers. But for this to happen, the Government – working with the regulator Ofgem, energy suppliers, disability organisations and disabled people themselves – must develop a long-term plan for truly tackling the extra energy costs faced by disabled people.
This is vital to create an energy market that works for disabled people like Sarah Jane.