Keeping a lid on energy use

With the increased popularity of hybrid working, employees will face higher energy bills to keep their home warm during the day. Laura King considers how to support employees with increased costs.

Most people will be well aware of the looming crisis of the cost of energy. When the new energy price cap kicks in in April 2022, the average household bill is expected to rise by up to 50%. On top of high inflation, many are predicting a cost-of-living crisis that will make it difficult for many to make ends meet each month.

As many who have worked from home over winter will know, the costs of keeping a house warm throughout the day is not insignificant. For example, research by Electric Radiators Direct has found that the cost of working from home (including the average cost of running appliances and devices for a regular working week) is around £90.64 per month, or £1088 per year. When taking average commuting costs into account (£64/month), the average worker will still be around £30/month worse off. Consequently, nearly half (49%) of UK employees surveyed said that the energy price hike is “highly” impacting their choice of working location.

A hot topic

Flexible working has its proponents and critics. But, putting aside these disagreements, it is clear that flexible working has not benefitted all individuals equally. It has been shown to improve work-life balance; yet disproportionately affect others, such as women who take on a larger share of unpaid caring responsibilities. It has also widened the class divide, with a clear division of those who can work flexibly, and those currently unable to do so.

Factors such as the cost-of-living crisis might start to create additional divides between those who can, and those who can’t. And, although there are no equality laws based on socio-economics, future policies and support available will play a critical part in helping all employees access the benefits that can be gained by hybrid working.

So, what do organisations need to do, and how can organisations promote equity by supporting their employees in maintaining a warm home office?

Working from home risk assessments

Currently, working temperature falls under the employer’s duty to care to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Although there are no minimum or maximum limits set in law, there are guidelines. For office workers, the HSE sets a minimum guideline temperature of 16°C.

When working from home, the best way to manage this is to ask employees to confirm as part of their working from home risk assessment that they can maintain their home at 16°C or more.

Additional workplace support

Where employees are struggling to keep home temperatures at a reasonable level, or where employers want to provide additional support, there are various levels of help that can be provided, from implementing tools and running advice clinics, to signposting. Some suggestions are listed below.

Signposting to external websites

The government-endorsed Simple Energy Advice website provides information about savings that can be made, as well as an energy efficiency calculator that will provide recommendations on what options there are for improving a building’s energy efficiency and expected cost savings. It also includes advice for tenants. In Scotland, this service is provided by Home Energy Scotland.

The Energy Saving Trust provides in-depth advice on a range of topics such improving your heating system, whether to replace electric heating and insulation.

Citizens Advice provides a range of information, including help for those that are facing fuel poverty, what to do if you think your bill is too high, as well as a calculator for checking how much an appliance costs to use.

Conducting an energy audit

Employees may also conduct their own energy audit of their home before reviewing advice provided by organisations such as the Energy Saving Trust. Steps to conduct an audit are as follows.

  1. Do employees have an Energy Performance Certificate for their home? These can be found here in England and Wales, and here in Scotland. The EPC certificate will explain how energy-efficient your home is and provide information on potential improvements. The Simple Energy Advice website provides advice on what information can be found on an EPC.

  2. If employees do not have an EPC, one can be commissioned. However, anyone can assess their own home to see what options might be available to them.

    1. Check the loft — has it been insulated? Also check the external walls, floor and any exposed pipes for evidence of insulation. There is more advice here on what to look for.

    2. Have hot water pipes and any hot water cylinders been insulated? Insulating a hot water tank with a 3-inch-thick jacket can pay for itself in a year.

    3. Look for draught proofing around windows, letter boxes and doors. This can be one of the most cost-effective improvements that can be made.

    4. What sort of lighting is in place? LED lights use about half of the amount of energy than the original fluorescent spiral “energy-saving” bulbs and turning lights off when leaving a room can save a typical household up to £14 per year.

    5. Are windows and doors energy-efficient? Double or triple-glazing will make homes warmer and quieter, but where this is not an option, secondary glazing can still make a difference.

Behavioural changes

There are some small behavioural changes that everyone can make. These can often be found on energy company websites, as well as consumer websites designed to help people save money.

  • Most people are comfortable between 18‒21°C. Turning down the thermostat will save immediately on costs.

  • Switch lights off when they are not in use, and turn equipment off standby.

  • When boiling a kettle, only boil what is needed.

  • Efficient appliances will use less energy — so, for example, bleed radiators and defrost the freezer regularly.

  • Only run a washing machine on a full load and wash at 30°C.

  • Even a minute less in the shower will save energy — as will switching from baths to showers.

Expert advice

If businesses are looking to provide more structured support, organisations such as the Energy Saving Trust can provide verified facts and suggestions for internal communications, and can develop tools for helping employees.

It might also be worth considering running energy saving workshops, or drop-in sessions with an expert. Although there may be expertise in-house, this is also something that could be outsourced.

For those without a budget, signposting employees to external sources of information will undoubtedly be useful, as well as creating a small collection of factsheets, FAQs or other resources that employees have access to internally.

Is monetary help available?

In cases where employees were required to work from home due to Covid-19, some financial help is available. For example, employees can request £6 per week allowance from employers to cover additional costs of working from home. However, there is no statutory requirement for employers to offer this, and so a second option is for employees to directly claim tax relief on the £6 per week from HMRC. For someone paying the basic rate of tax, this would amount to £1.20 per week or £62.40 a year. If evidence is provided, tax relief can be claimed on bills that amount to more than £6 per week.

Summary

With the cost of living increasing — not in a small part due to rising energy costs — it may become increasingly cost-prohibitive for people to work from home while keeping their work environment at a reasonable temperature.

Workplaces could consider ways to support employees, as follows.

  • Tell employees about their rights to claim tax relief.

  • Help employees find out about how energy efficient their home is.

  • Signpost employees to resources that can help them make improvements to their home.

  • Consider if there are options for outsourcing advice, such as running energy efficiency workshops.