A UK pilot program is paying people’s heating bills for them | Daily News Byte

A UK pilot program is paying people’s heating bills for them

 | Daily News Byte


(Bloomberg) — Underheating can be fatal: It’s the cause of around 10,000 deaths in the UK every winter, giving the country the sixth highest rate of winter over-death in Europe. People living in excessively cold homes also cost Britain’s taxpayer-funded National Health Service an estimated £860 million ($1 billion) each year.

Now, an NHS pilot program aims to tackle both problems simultaneously.

Between November 2022 and March 2023, the trial program will cover the heating costs of 1,000 vulnerable patients selected by the NHS based on pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, which are affected by cold weather, as well as their hospital-admission track record. The program was designed by the nonprofit Energy Systems Catapult in association with the NHS, and is financed by oil giant BP’s Social Impact Fund. Its goal is to determine whether such an approach is more affordable and more effective in saving lives than the status quo.

The risks of underheating are significant this year. Thanks to the Europe-wide energy crisis, utility bills in Britain are up more than 100% from last winter, and concerns about the cost of keeping warm are widespread. Advertising campaigns are also encouraging Brits to use their energy as efficiently as possible, prompting many to turn down the thermostat.

The trial, being run in the Tees Valley in the north of England and Aberdeenshire in Scotland, builds on UK efforts to tackle problems such as mental health and loneliness through community support rather than drugs or hospitalisation. A similar concurrent trial involving 150 people in Gloucestershire, funded by the government, builds on the program running from December 2021 to March 2022, with an average heating cost of £647 ($788) for each of the 28 participants.

“The benefits are far-reaching: we know that children’s academic achievement and attainment can be improved if they move from living in a cold home to living in a warm home,” Dr. Says Rose Chard, Energy Systems’ fuel poverty and consumer vulnerability lead. Catapult, who designed the program. “We know that if people are healthy, if they are warm at home they are more likely to be at work. There is real opportunity for this kind of innovation because the effects of living in a cold home are widespread throughout the population.

There may also be long-term benefits. During last year’s Gloucestershire trial, participants were more likely than others to engage with efforts to improve their home’s energy efficiency. Evidence from a separate UK initiative, Warm Front, which funded heating and insulation retrofits between 2000 and 2013, suggests that when people spend more on heating after a home improvement, they are also happier.

A separate study published last month in Australia examined the possibility of aiding energy expenditure and recovery with elderly care. Its author, RMIT University’s Dr. Nicola Wieland says she saw in some cases health workers buying fuel for their patients. “The health care workers will notice and sometimes they’ll even try to help people – so if someone’s running out of wood they’ll just buy a whole pile of wood and give it to them,” she says.

Wieland came up with a referral system that allowed overburdened social workers to contact energy consultants to help their clients. Energy companies also responded positively to the idea, she says, as a way to discourage underheating.

Both the UK trial and the Australia study highlight methods for changing how people pay for their heating. The current system in most of Britain, where customers pay per kilowatt hour of gas or electricity, is not the only option. “Heat as a service,” for example, allows utilities to sell customers an agreed level of warmth instead of units of fuel. Heating mechanisms, such as heat pumps or boilers, are leased from the energy company rather than owned by the customer.

There is evidence that “heat as a service” is also increasing public interest in low-carbon technologies, and encouraging utilities to improve the efficiency of consumers’ homes. The UK government’s current energy price guarantee, a publicly funded subsidy that caps household energy bills, could have a similar effect – the government now has a financial interest in reducing people’s consumption.

©2022 Bloomberg LP


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