Caring and saving – getting smart about your fuel bills
Smart technology can help carers and their families monitor power usage but more needs to be done to cap the additional gas and electricity costs which face families with disabilities.
It's a well-known fact that having a disability and caring for someone who is disabled can create tough financial challenges. As the State of Caring survey (2016) shows, over 70% of carers struggle to make ends meet with the constant worry affecting their health and wellbeing.
Even before I gave up a good job to care full time for my husband, Derek and I were already monitoring our pretty enormous gas and electricity bills. Due to Derek’s spinal injury and linked conditions such as neuropathy and poor circulation, we regularly spend over £2000 each year heating our fully insulated home and in additional electricity costs e.g. charging the mobile hoist and frequent use of our washing machine and tumble dryer.
We have done all we can to minimize our duel fuel costs but many carers will understand that there is only so much you can do. As a result, like many families with a disabled individual, we pay a significant amount out of our vastly reduced income on the basics. And heating our home is one of these.
So, when we had the chance to have a smart meter installed earlier this year, we felt that it would be helpful in keeping an eye on what we use, and that this in turn might help us identify other ways to reduce our expenditure.
It was (relatively) easy to get the meter installed and we now have a snazzy monitor in our kitchen. Linked wirelessly to the smart meter, the monitor tells us - to the penny - how much we spend on gas and electricity, every hour and every day. You can even set a budget for both gas and electricity to enable you to try to reduce what you spend - although given our heating is on every day, we pretty much burst that budget from the outset!
The smart meter did however prompt us to consider whether we could save money in other ways eg. checking our tariff. We have now switched to one which gives us free electricity either on a Saturday or Sunday (you choose the day) and I now try to save up my washing, tumble drying, ironing -where I can - and save some money this way.
We also had the Hive system installed last year, which allows remote control of your water and heating and is very disability friendly as you can operate your boiler from an app. Hive isn’t cheap and we had it installed when we were working. However, I wonder if VAT free status might be applied to it given it can help disabled people, or negotiation on the part of governments which would enable Hive to be offered free of charge to families with a disabled person?
The key issue for us though is the cost of electricity and gas - even with the best tariff and all the monitoring in the world, disabled people and their families pay a hefty price. And sadly, some disabled people and unpaid carers increasingly have to choose between heating and eating. It is here that both the Scottish and UK governments could work better with power companies to find ways to offer better deals to disabled people and carers.
Lynn Williams is an unpaid carer for her husband Derek, who has a high lesion spinal injury.
Lynn has campaigned for a number of years on the issues affecting unpaid carers, working first with Carers Trust. She joined SCVO in 2012 as a Policy Officer with welfare reform as a major part of her remit. At this time, she was asked by then Deputy First Minister to join the Expert Working Group on Welfare and served through both phases of the group's work.
Alongside her full time caring role, Lynn also works on a very part time basis with GCVS on health and care integration. She is a Carers Allowance claimant and she and her husband are currently dealing with the DLA to PIP transfer.
Read more about smart meters and their benefits here.