By-line: Gavin O’Neill, Chief Executive Officer, Generis
We all know the seismic change the UK and the rest of the world is currently undergoing. ‘Self-isolation’ and ‘lockdown’ are perhaps two of the most used, recently introduced phrases relating to the global social situation. Until a few weeks ago, they had barely been used. We can clearly see the impact on the health service, education and key worker industries, as well as the small (and large) businesses that could never have foreseen nor prepared for such a national and international emergency.
Energy is no exception. While most businesses are closed, public transport runs at a skeletal service level and educational facilities are limited in their use. Nationally, energy demand will drop, which is a real positive for the UK’s carbon emission reduction target. However, for individuals, the lockdown means spending almost 24 hours a day at home resulting in higher household energy usage.
With over 16 million of us estimated to be staying at home in the fight against Covid-19, Uswitch has predicted a conservative increase in energy use for average households of 15% on electricity and 20% on gas, increasing bills by around £155 per year. Hargreaves Lansdown estimates a much higher financial impact on families during this lockdown period, with claims annual energy costs could rise by £624 or £52 per month.
At a time when many people have lost their main source of income, the prospect of having to keep their home warm, their lights on and their TV, broadband and other devices running much more than usual, is adding a great deal of additional stress to an already challenging period.
So, what are the energy and utilities industries doing to help and what advice can be offered to consumers who are vulnerable, elderly or simply struggling to cope?
Remote top ups
As we enter the third week of lockdown, prepayment customers may find they need to top up. Thankfully, for smart meter customers, they should be able to top up remotely via phone, app or online – which is of critical importance during a lockdown, and especially for those customers deemed vulnerable, high risk or elderly.
Smart meter transparency
One of the main benefits of smart meters that has been relayed to consumers over the years has been the transparency relating to energy usage that they have been afforded. As families face financial burdens on an unprecedented scale, arguably, this has never been more important. Keeping a daily record of how much energy you are using, even turning it into a maths or science activity with the children, could play a key role in ensuring energy bills remain manageable in the weeks and months to come.
It’s clear that as an industry, we need to help customers and households overcome the new challenges they are facing in this battle against Covid-19. That is already happening, as the energy sector has pledged to protect the most vulnerable and those in most need. Some measures that have been proposed include increasing emergency credit thresholds, reassessing, reducing or pausing debt repayments, and bill payments, with a further promise not to disconnect any household.
Fuel Poverty Action is also calling on government to provide free credit to prepayment meter users while they negotiate with suppliers and to guarantee that those customers in financial distress will have their bills reduced to an affordable level, as opposed to simply deferred.
Amidst all the worry, it’s important to take a step back, review your situation, speak with your suppliers and/or seek help if necessary.
And remember, we are all in this together.