​How can plumbers help the public reduce energy costs?

Just when the British public thought things couldn’t get any worse, the cost of energy has soared and water rates have increased. With the energy price cap rising an eye watering 54% and water costs increasing up to 10% in some parts of England, households are understandably worried about how they are going to pay their bills.

The energy price cap increase will affect approximately 22 million customers. According to Ofgem, households on default tariffs paying by direct debit will see an increase of £693 from £1,277 to £1,870 per year, while prepayment customers’ bills will rise by £708 from £1,309 to £2,017.

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive officer of Ofgem, said: “The energy market has faced a huge challenge due to the unprecedented increase in global gas prices, and Ofgem’s role as energy regulator is to ensure that, under the price cap, energy companies can only charge a fair price based on the true cost of supplying electricity and gas.

“Ofgem is working to stabilise the market and over the longer term to diversify our sources of energy which will help protect customers from similar shocks in future.”

Energy increases

The COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the recent sanctions on Russia, have exacerbated issues such as reduced storage of gas and a lack of wind generated energy in the UK in particular, and Rishi Sunak has come under increased pressure over the cost of living issues that will significantly impact households’ budgets.

“Without question, this is people’s number one priority at the moment,” Sunak told BBC One’s Sunday Morningprogramme when asked about energy costs. “I get that, and I know how difficult it is when you’re working hard and seeing the price of everything go up every week.

“The steps that we have taken to sanction Russia are not cost-free for us at home. I want to be honest with people: it’s not going to be easy.”

When the price cap rises again in October, E.ON has warned that up to 40% of people in Britain may be forced into fuel poverty. Michael Lewis, chief executive of E.ON UK said: “We are expecting a severe impact on customers’ ability to pay.”

He told MPs at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee in parliament, that he expected customers’ debts to rise by 50%, or £800m.

Many people, including the financial journalist and broadcaster Martin Lewis, felt the government wasn’t doing enough. He said: “Money prioritisation used to be, do I go to the hairdresser or do I go to the pub and have a takeaway? Now it’s about: I’m prioritising feeding my children over feeding myself. That is simply not tenable in our society. It’s not something money management can fix – we need political intervention.”

Rising water rates

Water poverty will become a reality for some UK households when the yearly water and sewerage costs rise in England and Wales this year, even though the forecasted rise is set to be below the rate of inflation. In fact, according to Water UK, water bills are lower in real terms compared to a decade ago and average yearly bills have fallen over the last two years.

Although the increase of water costs seems modest when compared to that of energy, the two combined are proving too much for some households. Customers are being encouraged to contact their water company if they need help with their bills. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, more than 100,000 customers have been given payment breaks. A record 1.1m consumers currently receive support with paying their water bills and this number is predicted to rise to 1.4m by 2025.

Christine McGourty, the chief executive officer of Water UK, said there is “a wide range of support available for those in need”. However, The Consumer Council for Water says that only one in four customers are aware of schemes that can reduce their water bills.

Practical approach

A multi-faceted approach needs to be taken to tackle the issues of fuel and water poverty. Working on the front line, plumbing and heating engineers need to do all they can to help customers ensure their homes are as efficient as possible.

“Installers need to try and help reduce costs wherever possible,” says Kevin Wellman, CIPHE’s chief executive officer.

One way to ensure optimum efficiency of homes is to carry out a property systems health check. However, when highlighting the financial benefits to customers it’s important that engineers factor in how price increases will impact payback times.

“Currently, the main issue for consumers is their homes’ running costs, so it’s important that they employ a qualified engineer to assess how their heating and plumbing system is operating in order to save energy and money,” says Mel Gumbs, CIPHE President. “This check will highlight inefficiencies, which can then be resolved.”

Tips from the trade

Reducing consumption and therefore costs doesn’t necessarily mean consumers having to invest in the latest renewable technology. Every little helps – from fixing a dripping tap to swapping a bath for a shower.

“Water is often overlooked when it comes to saving money but there are many ways to reduce your bill,” said a spokesperson for Water UK. “These savings could help free up precious pounds to cover other rising costs.”

According to Water UK, 46% of adults believe their household uses under 20 litres a day when in the UK we use roughly 142 litres per person per day. Its Water’s Worth Saving campaign aims to reduce water consumption by offering simple hints and tips like taking shorter showers, using a watering can in place of a hose and using the eco setting with a fully loaded dishwasher.

“Ensuring boilers are regularly serviced can reduce running costs,” points out Gumbs. “Checking the system is clean and has no leaks will also help with consumption levels. Installers should also make a point to show householders how they should be controlling their heating and hot water systems.”

Although many energy and water saving tips seem obvious to engineers, it’s important to outline measures that customers can take to reduce their usage, such as using TRVs to turn the heating off in rooms that aren’t being used.

Making use of smart controls is an easy way to make boilers work more efficiently by pre-programming heating. Smart meters are also a good way to monitor energy usage so consumers can see where they can cut back.

MORE INFORMATION

The CIPHE website contains helpful consumer advice on lowering bills and fuel and water poverty in a dedicated section at www.ciphe.org.uk/public/lowering-water-energy-bills

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