‘Living under carpets’: people scramble to keep central heating off as UK bills soar | Energy bills

After the energy price cap rose on October 1, many consumers are putting off switching on their central heating in a bid to cut costs.

Five people in the UK discuss how rising bills are affecting them and what measures they are taking to keep warm.

“I can stand up to 13 degrees indoors”

Jo Love: “I’ll try my damnedest not to have it.” Photo: Jo Love

It wouldn’t be unusual for Jo Love to have the heating on by now. The 64-year-old cleaner lives in a 200-year-old cottage in Pembrokeshire which gets wet easily, but this year she aims to last until the end of November. “I can cope without heating until the ambient temperature reaches 13 degrees Celsius [55.4F],” she says. “It’s always humid here, so when the house isn’t warm it gets humid.”

As a holiday cleaner, Love’s job is highly seasonal. Her income drops dramatically in the winter. To withstand the cold at home she wears a robe, jacket and hat indoors. “I’m going to try my damnedest not to wear it,” she says, adding that she’s “taking it day by day.” “What I’m trying to do is use as little energy now so when it’s unbearable in January I can pour myself out – hopefully I can build credit. I decided to only watch one hour of TV at night and go to bed at 8.30pm. I’ve never done anything like this before – it’s crazy.”

“It’s getting really cold here in the evenings”

Carol Ann Crawford, a 67-year-old dialect coach in Edinburgh, finds herself constantly watching her smart meter when she switches on an appliance. “Some behavior is probably reasonable, like filling the kettle with enough water for a cup,” he says. “Television consumes quite a lot that I hadn’t appreciated before.”

While Crawford would normally have the heat on until mid-September, this year she plans to keep it off for as long as possible. “It really depends on the temperature – it’s starting to get really cold in the evenings, I might have to put it on in a couple of weeks. The prospect of huge bills scares me, although my bill was £200 in credit last time I looked,’ she says. “I know the danger of frozen pipes as it gets cold. I’m still working and earning pretty good money – but with everyone being so scared of fuel costs I think I’ve been affected and I’m thinking about how I can save money. I was going to retire soon, but I’m reconsidering.”

“Even if I can afford it, cutting back helps everyone”

Richard Benson and his son
Richard Benson and his son. Photo: Richard Benson

Richard Benson aims to make it to December before turning on the heating – unless there’s a real cold spell by then. The company’s 40-year-old London manager says he is lucky the decision is “not a financial one”. “I just don’t see it being right – if everyone uses less, there will be less demand, prices won’t be as high. Even if I can afford it, cutting back a little helps everyone. I see it as sheer selfishness not to try to help a little,” he says.

Benson’s two young children – a two-year-old and a three-month-old baby – are wrapped in extra layers. “The baby has two babies and if someone isn’t carrying it they have a blanket over it,” she says.

Benson, 40, wears four layers — vest, T-shirt, jumper and T-shirt — at home. He explains that if his kids catch a cough or the flu, his heating schedule will go out the window: “I can’t let my kids be sick because I refuse to turn on the heating.”

“I reluctantly decided to get a wood burner”

David Coulthard, 58, from North Yorkshire, says he has reluctantly resorted to using a wood burner to heat his home and has already bought £200 worth of wood to burn. “It should last three months,” he says, costing less than his January 2022 heating bill alone.

“Our electricity bills over the last 12 months have averaged around £140 a month, but in the winter months they were approaching £250 and it just didn’t seem right,” he says. “So I decided to get a wood burner to heat the house more efficiently. I don’t like to use a lot of wood as it releases stored carbon into the atmosphere and particles that contribute to air pollution, but this year I don’t see much of a choice.”

He says he expects to turn on the heat sometime in the next few months, but is trying to hold out until the end of November.

“The cold makes my disability worse”

After her estimated bill “left her in shock”, Ilona Hughes is putting off central heating in her London flat, despite the health implications. The 52-year-old is disabled and suffering from the cold and humidity. “I will have swelling in the knees, pain increases, mobility decreases.

“I live under carpets anyway – even though I’m 52, I act like I’m 99,” she says. “My flat can be very humid because it’s a Victorian conversion, we have solid brick walls and you get a lot of dampness in the morning on the windows and it feels damp. The moisture goes straight into my knees like arrows.” She relies on an electric heater to keep the temperature in her bedroom – the smallest room – at 18C during the day.

Hughes plans to keep the central heating off for as long as she can and is looking for different ways to keep warm. “I’ve put a curtain over the bedroom and living room doors to keep the heat in if I use them. I really don’t know how I’m going to cope this winter – whether I’m going to use the central heating to protect my health and build up debt or live in a state of poverty.’

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