Disabled people facing serious negative impacts from high energy bills

Consumer Scotland research workshops highlight issues over financial support.

New research has highlighted a range of negative impacts on disabled people and those with health conditions as a result of increased energy costs.

The findings came from face-to-face and online workshops with individuals who are disabled, living with a health condition or carers.

Attendees at the events - run by Consumer Scotland in partnership with Collaborate Research - also included 13 organisations representing or working with disabled people and people with health conditions.

A report on the findings from Collaborate Research found participants perceived there to be greater risks of disabled consumers being unable to afford their energy bills.

This was due to the high cost of energy overall combined with high essential usage needs, limited opportunity to reduce energy use without causing detriment and having generally low incomes and a higher cost of living.

Disabled people and those with a health condition can face higher bills because of reasons related to their individual needs including powering medical equipment and having paid carers in the home.

The report found that at the extreme end challenges facing disabled consumers and those with a health condition were perceived to increase the risk of severe illness and even death.

In addition, there were reports of people cutting back on essentials, as well as negative effects on their mental health, relationships and social isolation.

One individual who attended the workshops said: “I get really cold, but I cannot afford to turn the heating on and if we ever do turn the heating on, I clock watch, you know, it's on for 30 minutes and then it's off. I'll sit there suffering from chronic pain, with my legs going stone cold and my back killing me."

There was a general view that existing financial support measures available to disabled people and people with health conditions are insufficient.

This was attributed in part to the lack of specific provision made for the additional energy costs many such people incur as well as the fact that with much of the support available the onus is on the individual to identify what they are eligible for.

In Scotland 26% of people self-report as having a disability, rising to 46% of the population above the state pension age.

Consumer Scotland Energy Policy Manager Grace Remmington, said:

“Households where someone is disabled or living with a health condition are at greater risk of affordability challenges in this context due to typically having higher costs and lower incomes compared to households without a health condition.

“For many this includes paying more for energy as they have an increased need for heat to manage their condition and may also rely on electrical medical, mobility or assistive technology equipment.

“Aside from the burdens faced by individuals this is also likely to have a significant impact on the healthcare system due to people becoming more unwell as a result of living in cold homes and rationing essentials.

“As well as the need for support for disabled consumers, as identified in the workshop, there is also a need to ensure that the future energy market proactively considers those consumers whose needs are not being met.”

Consumer Scotland, which has published its own interim findings report, will now hold further workshops to discuss and develop a package of policy recommendations including smaller improvements to the current market to potential pathways for wider government intervention. These will be included in a final report.

Consumer Scotland also plans to engage with government and industry to increase understanding of the challenges that disabled people face in the energy market and build consensus across the sector on the best path to improving the experience of the energy market for disabled people.


Impact of energy costs on people who are disabled or living with health conditions

Disabled consumers and energy costs – interim findings

Health, Disability and the Energy Crisis

The first workshop was conducted face-to-face in Edinburgh on 11th December 2023. This included 11 individuals who are disabled, living with a health condition or a carer for someone who is.

Attendees also included representatives from 13 organisations including charities representing or working with disabled people and/or people with health conditions, organisations with an interest in energy and/or general consumer issues. Some organisational representatives who took part also have lived experience of being disabled or living with a health condition.

Representatives from the following organisations attended the workshops: Carers Scotland, Carers Trust, Children's Hospices Across Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland, Coalition of Carers, Disability Equality Scotland's Midlothian Access Panel, Disability Equality Scotland's West Lothian Access Panel, Enable Scotland, Energy Action Scotland, Health & Social Care Alliance Scotland, Inclusion Scotland, Marie Curie, MECOPP, Mental Health Foundation's Voices of Experience, MND Scotland, MS Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, Research Institute for Disabled Consumers and RNIB Scotland.

Collaborate Research is an independent UK-based research company.

Consumer Scotland is the statutory and independent body for consumers in Scotland. It works across a range of sectors, including energy.