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Cutting your fuel bills and tackling the silent killer

by Christine Lang, CAS Lead projects coordinator.

This column was first published in the Herald on 12 September 2022.

A couple of years ago I changed jobs in Citizens Advice Scotland. I used to manage our NHS complaints project, but now I co-ordinate the various energy advice projects delivered by the Scottish CAB network. I never expected to be doing this job during a pandemic, then during an energy crisis. Condemned to live in interesting times you might say.

When I say energy projects, CAB advisers have obviously always done terrific work helping individuals who are struggling with their energy bills, or understanding the importance of taking meter readings. And this advice is essential. Compared to last year, since April our network has already seen a 20% increase in demand for energy advice. 

The fact we do this work means that some energy suppliers/distributors are keen to work with us to set up specific projects that will fund more specialist energy advisers (our advice of course remains completely independent, as always). One of these companies, SGN, set up just such a project with us earlier this year. But in addition to providing the usual advice on energy bills, this project also works to raise awareness of the problem of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning.    

This week is Gas Safety Week, so it seems like a good time to talk about it.

CO is a highly poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, including gas, oil, wood, petrol and coal. Unlike a gas leak, you can’t smell it. You also can’t see it, hear it or taste it – that’s why it’s known as the ‘silent killer’.

And no, ‘killer’ is not an exaggeration. Across the UK, between 20 and 30 people die and around 4,000 are hospitalised every year because of CO poisoning. And it is likely that others are affected but don’t realise it.

So this week CAS is joining energy groups to urge everyone to think about the danger you may be in and take steps to prevent it. e.g. you can buy a CO monitor, and make sure you are ventilating your home. If you rent, your landlord has a responsibility to protect you. More info is available at the Gas Safe Charity website.  

I’ve learnt a lot about energy since I took on this role, not least how complex an area it is. I love working with our CAB energy advisers. They know so much about the energy system and are able to offer so much advice and information to clients who are struggling with their bills.

For example, they can talk to your suppliers on your behalf to see if there is any way they can reduce your bills or help you to manage them.  And we make sure you are accessing all the benefits, grants and tax credits you’re entitled to: what we call ‘income maximisation’. It’s amazing how often people are entitled to some additional income but not claiming it because they don’t know about it. Could that be you? Come to your local CAB and we’ll check for you. Free, confidential and impartial. Or check for yourself using our online tool here.

But raising awareness of the constant danger of CO poisoning is now a key part of our work too. So thankyou for reading, and please help us spread the word.