With an estimated 16.8 million more people across the UK staying at home* during the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns have been raised over vulnerable households in County Durham facing higher fuel costs as their energy consumption increases during the lockdown,

Bills are expected to rise by about 30%** in the coming months as, even with the weather starting to turn warmer, households are using more power to run their hot water, heating, computers and other appliances during the day when previously the home would be empty.

Whilst the government has signalled it may step in to support vulnerable households and the initial crash in the price of oil has provided some relief to the 16,000 oil heated households in County Durham, there is concern many will still struggle, particularly if they face reduced incomes or additional costs of looking after relatives.

In response OFTEC, the trade association for the oil heating industry, is alerting households to the support available and providing advice on how to reduce energy consumption. This includes:

• Identify the benefits available to you. Several new government measures have been announced including extended statutory sick pay (SSP) for those self-isolating, enhanced Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for the self-employed and higher housing benefit payments if your income has dropped due to Covid-19. Contact Citizens Advice for information on the support you could claim.

• Speak with your energy provider. Customers in financial distress must be supported by their supplier, according to the government. This could include a reassessment or pausing of debt repayments. For oil households, some suppliers are prioritising deliveries to vulnerable groups such as older people, families with small children or those with underlying health conditions.

• Only heat the rooms you are using. Turn off individual radiators in rooms you are not using to save money. Also, in the rooms you use regularly, ensure radiators are not blocked with furniture as this reduces their effectiveness.

• Adjust your heating timers. You may have a new routine if you are working from home so check when you heating is set to turn on. For example, if you are getting up later in the morning you may not need your house to warm up as early. With the worst of the cold weather seemingly behind us, you could also start to reduce how long your heating is on for.

• Keep in contact with vulnerable neighbours and friends to ensure they are keeping well, especially as the lockdown could increase feelings of loneliness. There are many free video-calling platforms to stay in touch or a regular phone call can make a real difference. If you need to visit them to drop off food or other essentials, ensure you carefully follow the government’s social distancing guidelines.

“During these unsettling times, many households may be feeling anxious about higher energy bills because they are spending more time at home during the day”, says Malcolm Farrow of OFTEC. “However, new announcements about the support available are being made every day by the government and energy suppliers so it’s important to identify those which apply to you, or to family and friends who you know are struggling.

“The warmer weather will help to reduce reliance on heating and other measures such as adjusting timers and radiators may seem trivial but, over several weeks and months, the savings can really add up. They are also usually simple jobs most people can do themselves.”

More information and advice, including what to do if your heating systems needs emergency repair work during the Covid-19 lockdown, is available here: https://www.oftec.org/technicians/covid-19-contingency-planning