Struggling to pay energy and water bills? Unable to stay warm in winter or suffering from a roasting home in the summer? You need to see the Energy Doctor.
Toby Morgan arrives at Age UK Islington’s offices on his trusty workhorse – a non-polluting bicycle. Energy Advice Officer Toby, 36, works at Shine, which was set up by Islington Council to help people struggling to heat their homes adequately.
“It’s not just about cold weather though,” explains Toby. “Lots of newer properties are well insulated, but can get too hot, so we are busy in hot and cold weather.”
About 2,500 people are referred to Shine each year, many from Age UK Islington. Shine offers advice over the phone to help people on low incomes understand and pay energy bills and get the water bill discounts they are entitled to.
“We find people don’t realise how much gas their central heating boiler or electricity their tumble dryer uses,” he says after admitting that his own friends’ eyes now glaze over when he talks about the way energy bills have increased by 150 per cent in just eight years.
“It’s easy to get in a muddle with energy, especially if your memory is not as good as it used to be, and you’ve changed energy suppliers,” he says reassuringly.
Shine energy advisers will go through all the basics: how to understand bills and what’s the ideal thermostat temperature (21 degrees if you are at home all the time and not moving much). “It’s quite common to inherit a pre-payment scheme, but you don’t have to stick with them,” explains Toby for anyone who has recently moved. “Lots of people are on pre-payment metres for gas and electricity which can help people budget – but it is the most expensive way to pay for fuel, and people will spend twice as much in the winter as the summer.”
Toby’s job may be all about fuel poverty, but it turns out that sharing tips about keeping gas and electricity bills down also tackles social isolation.
“Often people ignore red top letters, but we find older people tend to be better at budgeting, and are quite debt averse, so they do not let bills build up. Sometimes they just need someone to visit and chat. “One gentleman had a large debt so limited his heating to just one hour a day. I’d go round and he’d be sat under blankets. It’s important to stay warm for various health conditions so his home wasn’t healthy. It was a big weight off his mind when we helped him apply to a trust fund to pay off his debt successfully and set up a payment plan.”
Once you’ve sorted out how to pay for your energy, an Energy Doctor can help make your home more comfortable by organising draft proofing on doors, window frames and even your letter box and put heat-reflective panels behind the radiators.
In 2016 about 800 two-hour Energy Doctor visits were made to people’s homes. “We’ve found there’s a 96 per cent satisfaction rating for these visits,” says Toby – probably because the recipients enjoyed a good chat at the same time as the energy-saving measures worth £30-£50 were being put in place. If you haven’t tried to make your home more energy efficient then this spring is definitely the right time to start.
Shine can also put you in touch with a handy person to hang curtains and do decorating for £10 an hour. www.islington.gov.uk/shine
You can also find great energy advice at www.energyadvice.islington.gov.uk