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Learning Disability Week: make energy understandable

Suppliers need to ensure that vital energy information is accessible to people with a learning disability so that they are empowered to make informed decisions, according to a national charity.

Learning disability charity Mencap, the leading charity for the 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability, their families and carers, celebrates Learning Disability Week this month (17-23 June). It is calling for the next government to introduce a mandatory social energy tariff for disabled people and their households, to make energy more affordable.

With support from British Gas Energy Trust, Mencap’s team of four specialised energy and money advisors provide essential advice on managing energy costs, which is especially crucial during the ongoing energy crisis, and has been a lifeline for people.

Mary O’Hagan, Mencap’s Executive Fundraising Director, said:

“People with a learning disability have been impacted by the cost-of-living crisis more than most. We want to work with suppliers, regulators, and the next government to identify disabled households that who need support.  

“Information around energy can be quite complex. When people come to us, they’re often at crisis-point. If information can be made more accessible at an earlier stage, it would prevent a lot of problems from occurring in the first place.  

A lot of people in shared accommodation don’t actually know who their energy providers are, so that’s a barrier right from the start.”

People with a learning disability have been disproportionately impacted by escalating bills, often because they need energy to power life-critical medical equipment, for mobility requirements or simply because they need to heat their homes for longer periods of time.

This can lead to issues around affordability of other vital essentials like food which has a knock-on effect on their health.

Mary added:

“Many disabled people have limited savings, so the cost-of-living crisis means some households have had to make choices between heating or eating.  

“The cost-of-living crisis is continuing to have a devastating impact on people with a learning disability.” 

Mencap is experiencing an increase in demand for its Information and Advice service with many people reaching them at crisis point.

According to latest statistics from Scope, a Trust funded disability equality charity in England and Wales, disabled households already pay, on average, an additional £975 extra a month to have the same standard of living as non-disabled people. And during the cost-of-living crisis, 57% of disabled people have reported that their income does not, or only just, covers their energy bills.

Over a third (38%) of people with a learning disability who responded to a Mencap survey said they hadn’t put their heating on despite being cold and over a quarter (26%) reported not switching the lights on to save money.

The cost-of-living crisis is affecting people like Elina*, whose boiler failed last winter.

Elina had recently moved back into her family home to care for her brother who has a learning disability and her grandmother who lives with dementia. Without heat or hot water, the household faced a cold and gruelling future.

Not sure of where to go for help, Elina called Mencap’s helpline and was immediately supported, sourcing two loaned oil radiators and given advice on how to prioritise heat for the household.

Mencap’s team also applied for a new boiler, fixed a faulty tap and gave further advice around energy efficiency, debt problems and wider household finances.

The theme of this year’s Learning Disability Week is ‘Do you see me?’, which focuses on raising awareness of people with a learning disability and the issues they face – as well as the amazing things they accomplish.

Mary added:

“People with a learning disability are often overlooked. People might talk to the person that they’re with, rather than talking directly to them. This week is all about increasing their visibility and focusing on a person’s accomplishments rather than the disability itself.” 

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*Name changed to protect identity