I am off-gas and on benefits. Can I get help replacing broken storage heaters?
Posted by Tasha Kosviner on 26 March 2014 at 8:41 am
Q. My mother is an 87-year old who lives by herself in her own home and is in receipt of pension credit. Her home is run on electricity and she has three storage heaters. One of these broke a while ago and last week the one in the front room broke. She now has just one working heater which is in the hall. She is also using a two-bar electric fire and a small portable electric oil heater. Is there any help available for her to buy new storage heaters?
A. As someone who is in receipt of pension credit, your mother is technically entitled to support under the government’s energy company obligation (ECO) scheme.
The scheme, delivered by the big energy companies, currently replaces broken or inefficient gas boilers free of charge, but if you are one of the four million households in the UK that are off the gas grid, this isn't much help.
However, under some proposed changes it is hoped that the scheme may be adjusted to make it more cost effective for energy companies to include the replacement of storage heaters too. This proposal, along with many other planned tweaks to ECO, is currently under consultation and unfortunately it is unlikely that the changes will come into effect before 2015.
In the meantime, how well insulated is your mother's house? You may be able to reduce the pain of using expensive electric heaters by improving her home's insulation and under ECO she will be able to get some help with this.
Free or heavily subsidised loft or cavity wall insulation is available for people on pension credit. To start the process for getting help under ECO call the government’s energy saving advice service on 0300 123 1234.
There are also grants available under the government's green deal cashback scheme to help with solid wall insulation, double glazing, draught proofing, room-in-roof insulation and other energy saving measures. However, you can only claim up to two thirds of the cost of the work and you need to have a green deal assessment done first in order to qualify.
Unfortunately, while these may help with your mother's situation, from an objective point of view, there's no escaping the fact that electric and storage heaters remain an expensive, carbon intensive way to heat any home.
There are alternatives, albeit with a cost attached. Off gas grid homes that are sufficiently insulated are prime candidates for the installation of renewable heat systems, such as air source heat pumps.
Once you have absorbed the cost of installation, an air source heat pump is a great, low carbon way of keeping your home warm while using around a third of the power of electric heaters.
Whilst the cost of installing a renewable heating system, starting at around £3500, can be intimidating, there is some financial help available for those wishing to go down this route.
The domestic renewable heat incentive (which is due to launch in April 2014) helps to reduce the cost difference of installing renewable heating systems compared to traditional fossil fuel heating. Regular payments will be made to owners of renewable heating systems for seven years as an incentive to installation.
However even with these added incentives, the cost of installing an air source heat pump system may still be beyond the budget - or inclination - of an elderly person on pension credit. If this is the case, addressing any insulation problems and then either paying for new storage heaters herself, or hoping for the proposed ECO changes to be taken up, is probably your best hope.
From the blog
What does it cost to run an electric heater? (Feb 2012)
How to get started with the green deal (June 2013)
An introduction to air source heat pumps (Nov 2010)
If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.
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