Fact Sheet: Energy Price Cap and Cost of Living 

Who We Are

Disability Equality Scotland (DES) is a member-led, Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO), working towards the inclusion and accessibility of all disabled people across Scotland in all of society.

Our work is based on a human rights approach, and we share the collective voices of disabled people to inform and influence policymaking decisions.

We adhere to the social model of disability and are a proud member of the Independent Living Movement. DES also acts as the umbrella body for the Scottish Access Panel Network.

What is the issue we asked members about?

In light of the Office of Gas and Electricity Market’s (OfGEM) decision to increase the energy price cap in January 2024, we conducted a survey of our members to gain their views on the price rise. This included asking members about the impact they believed the changes to the energy price cap would have on their ability to pay their energy bills.

As the United Kingdom (UK) economy is currently experiencing a consistent cost-of-living crisis, we wanted to know how the rise in energy prices have affected disabled people. In particular, we wanted to find out about the additional costs disabled people face, including the associated costs of running independent living equipment (i.e. powerchairs, hoists, oxygen machines, home dialysis etc.).

In the wider context, members were asked about their views on the £150 cost of living payment provided to disabled people by the UK Government and what future support our members believed disabled people need due to the ongoing crisis.

We ran our survey from 5th December 2023 until 12th December 2023.

What are the key things we found out?

  • 79% of our members disagreed with the proposed rise in the energy price cap due to take effect on 1st January 2024.
  • 55% of respondents said they were very worried about paying their energy bill once the new price cap takes effect. A further 33% said they were quite worried about being able to afford to pay their bill.
  • 97% of respondents said there should be a specific cost of living payment to help people charge/use their independent living equipment.
  • A small majority (51%) of our members said they had been forced to make a choice between heating their home or using any independent living equipment they need. Members expressed a general concern that they should not need to make this choice.
  • 89% said they felt the disabled people’s cost of living payment was not enough money in the context of the cost-of-living crisis.

Here is what our members told us

Energy Price Cap

Disability Equality Scotland (DES) members overwhelmingly disagree with the 1 January 2024 increase in the energy price cap, with 79% disagreeing, 9% agreeing and 23% said they were not sure.

The changes put forward by OfGEM will add an extra £94 onto the typical household gas or electricity bill. This change does not consider regional variations which are applicable to energy bill charging. This could result in this rise being higher in certain geographical areas of Scotland.

The proposed £94 typical household rise has caused considerable concern for our members, with 55% saying they were very worried about being able to pay their energy bills when the price cap change takes effect. 33% said they were quite worried about being able to pay, 11% were not very worried about their ability to pay and less than 2% were not worried at all.

A considerable number of members expressed a need for the energy price cap to be reformed due to the sharp rises in energy bills which people have experienced in the past 18 months. They suggested that a reform of standing charges would be a step in the right direction.

There was also the case made for the re-introduction of a Social Tariff for disabled people. A change like this would mean that disabled people could be placed on the lowest available tariff to help them pay their bills. DES would urge ministers to carefully consider the case for reform of the energy price cap to ensure that disabled and vulnerable people are not pushed into fuel poverty as a result of changes to said cap.

We also – on behalf of our members – express our opposition to the proposed one-off £16 charge on households, to offset bad debt incurred by energy companies as a result of the cost of living and energy crisis as announced by OfGEM on 15th December 2023.

This proposed one off charge shows that the price cap is not working the way it should – to protect customers from unfair pricing policy. We believe it is wrong for customers to pay for what is a failure of the energy market, through the accrual of bad debt by companies. Steps should be taken to mitigate exposure to this under regulations moving forward.

The choice between heating home vs using independent living equipment

A small majority of members told us that they had been forced to choose between heating/lighting their home and using their independent living equipment (51% – yes, 49% – no).

However, where people may not have been forced into this choice, all our members have expressed serious concern about the challenges they are facing as a result of energy bill changes. Members have said that have had to reduce the amount of time they have their heating on, which can affect their health and reduce the amount of food they can eat.

“I have had to switch off my boiler. I just can’t afford both electric and gas at the moment.”

“We have had to prioritise heating over eating. The fact that disabled people were given a token amount even though it has been proven that disabled people use more energy is wrong on every aspect.”

The most concerning aspect of feedback is that disabled people have had to either reduce or lose access to independent living equipment which they require. Disabled people do not have a choice in using this equipment. It is essential for them to live an independent life and for some, they require this equipment to survive due to their health conditions or impairment. Some examples of feedback were:

 “I sold my powered wheelchair because it was costing too much to keep it charged. Heating is more important than mobility.”

 “I have to turn off my stair lift leaving me vulnerable if upstairs and anything happens. My oxygen machine has to be on I can’t do without it”

 “It’s harder as I am on home oxygen and I need to keep one room warm but most of the time it’s cold as the bills are high now never mind Jan 1”

“If I can’t afford to charge my powerchair I’m trapped at home, burning more electricity and gas for heating, feeling thoroughly miserable. It’s not helping my [REDACTED] at all.”

“I have to run a full-size fridge with live saving medication therefore this can not be turned off and I also run a medical pump for 18 hours every day. To ensure there is no disruption to these I now have to choose between what I use electricity for.”

We are gravely concerned that disabled people are having to resort to selling, or reducing the use of equipment that they need. For those who need temperature-dependent medication or life-saving machinery such as oxygen, these costs are non-negotiable and the rise in energy costs cannot be mitigated in any way.

97% of our members said that there needed to be a special cost of living payment to help those with independent living equipment or life-saving medical machinery to offset the additional costs incurred as a result.

We urge UK and Scottish Ministers to consider introduction of a scheme of this nature to help disabled people maintain their independence. A scheme of this nature must also not be a one-off and appropriate consideration should be given to ensuring that these costs can be mitigated through the rates provided via the social security system.

Support for Disabled People in the Cost-of-Living Crisis

The UK Government provided disabled people with a £150 cost of living payment which was designed to help disabled people to pay the additional costs as a result of the rise in their energy bills. 63% of respondents said they had received this payment compared to 37% who did not.

On the amount provided, 89% said that this was not enough money, with 10% saying it was “about right” and less than 1% saying it was too much. Disability Equality Scotland is in agreement with our members that disabled people require more support and believe that the £150 should be upgraded to match the level provided to other groups and those in receipt of their state pension. Disabled people should not have to change the way they live their independent lives and should not be discriminated against due to their impairments.

Members expressed various solutions on what they felt disabled people would need to help with cost of living. The most common expressed views were an increased disabled person’s cost-of-living payment, the introduction of a specific cost-of-living payment to help those with independent living equipment to pay running costs and reforms to the energy price cap such as a social tariff for disabled people.

With Scottish Ministers introducing reformed Winter Heating Payments via Social Security Scotland our members believe that the rate of payment should be linked to the cost of heating and the requirements of the individual due to their disability. Others suggested targeted support to help with energy costs depending on a person’s circumstances.

Further information

For further information on this, or other fact sheets, please contact Disability Equality Scotland on:

e: research@disabilityequlity.scot