Home insulation and boilers for free: here's how
By making your home more energy efficient you can save hundreds of pounds on energy bills a year without getting cold.
Even better, the big improvements to increase efficiency - good home insulation and good quality boilers - are available for free if you're a pensioner or receive certain benefits.
The Government have been making energy companies give this stuff away under the Energy Company Obligations (ECO) scheme since April 2013. It was set to finish in March 2017 but has now been extended until September 2018.
Between April 2015 and March 2017 alone it has approved 611,579 energy efficiency measures and a recent amendment to the scheme has widened eligibility even further - so if you're entitled, claim.
What am I eligible for?
The rules for eligibility can be a little bit complicated, but we've made it easy.
Just take our quick quiz:
1. What's your residential status?
You may be eligible if one of the following statements applies to your living situation:
- If you own your own home or rent from a private landlord; or
- If you are living in social housing and the property has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of E, F or G.
If you answered yes to either of these, go to the next question.
However, if you are a council tenant living in a house outside of the above classifications, then click here.
2. Do you receive state pension credit?
If yes, click through here, you're probably eligible.
If no, don't panic, just go on to question three.
3. Do you receive either working tax credit or child tax credit, or the newly introduced Universal Credit?
If yes, go on to the next question. If no, go on to question five.
4. Is your income below £16,010?
At this income level you'd usually get the full amount of child tax credit. If that sounds right, click through here because you're probably eligible.
If not, go on to the next question.
5. Do you get an income-related benefit like employment allowance, job-seekers allowance or income support?
If yes, there's just one more question: go on to six.
If no, then click through here.
6. Do any of the following apply to you?
You're probably eligible if, in addition to the above, one of the following applies to you:
- you're over 60
- you have a child under 16 or under (or under 20 in full-time education)
- your benefits have a disabled worker or severe disability element
If you tick one of those boxes go down the page.
If not, read the next section.
Sorry, you're probably not eligible for the ECO scheme.
To double check, give the Energy Saving Trust a ring.
It's worth it because it's a complicated system - some people are eligible based on their postcode, for example - and we're talking about hundreds or even thousands of pounds of savings here.
You can contact the Energy Saving Trust on the following numbers:
- England, Wales and Northern Ireland: 0300 123 1234
- Scotland: 0808 808 22 82
You can also see the full scheme eligibility rules over here.
If you ended up in this section because you said no to the first question, note that the ECO scheme may be available to you but through your housing provider or local council. Get in touch with them for more information.
If you're not suitable don't give up. There are more ways to beat energy price hikes here.
Free insulation and boilers: how it works
Eligible households can apply to any energy firm - not just the home's supplier - to get a free home assessment.
The assessor will look at what you have at the moment and determine what they can offer, then someone will come and install the new insulation or boiler for free.
Is my home suitable?
Under this scheme, assessment is free and puts you under no obligation.
Energy companies have to give away these improvements or face fines, so you won't be given the hard sell. But if you want to double check before getting someone round, here are the basics.
The type of insulation that'll be available to you depends on your property.
Cavity wall insulation, for example, is only available when there's at least 50mm of space in the walls. Loft insulation will usually only be carried out when the current insulation is less than 60mm thick and when installers can reach and insulate at least two thirds of the loft space.
Houses that were built after 1990 will usually have adequate insulation already.
Boilers can be replaced when they are energy inefficient - those with less than 86% efficiency - with a rating between B and C and B and G.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, replacing a G rated boiler with an A rated one would save a semi detached house with average usage £210 a year so it's well worth it if you think your boiler's a bit old.
If your boiler has a good energy rating but is broken, it'll probably be fixed rather than replaced.
You can check your boiler yourself using this database.
People who rent from a private landlord should get their consent before starting. The energy company will probably get in touch with them as well to confirm it's ok to make improvements.
They'll do this even before an assessor comes to have a look, so tell your landlord or letting agent before or just after you apply.
Remember the landlord will benefit from improvements too, though, so they shouldn't have a problem.
Is it really free?
Suppliers can charge for improvements in some unusual circumstances.
If the installation requires a lot of extra work - like putting up scaffolding for external insulation, removing old insulation or laying new pipes - they may charge or part charge for the extra cost.
If you're unhappy with the boiler they choose and ask for an alternative, they can charge for that too.
The good news is that having the assessment is free and no obligation.
If there are costs, you'll still save in comparison to doing it yourself, and continue to save on bills once it's done - but it's your choice whether to accept them or go without.
Schemes by supplier
Although British Gas and Scottish Power have stopped accepting new applicants for free home insulation and replacement boilers, four of the big six energy firms still have to offer these home improvements, whether you're a customer or not.
Though the eligibility requirements are the same everywhere, that gives you a lot of choice.
Here are the information pages and helplines for the big firms: they have more detail about what's available and how to make an application.
|ECO scheme page||Helpline|
|EDF||More >>||Call 0800 4040 9084|
|E.On||More >>||Apply online or call 0330 400 1188|
|Npower||More >>||Apply online or call 0800 072 1741 / 0330 100 8123|
|SSE||More >>||Call 0345 078 3248|
Not suitable for free improvement or just want to carry on saving? There's plenty you can do.
As energy companies put up prices it has never been more important to be on the cheapest tariff available to you.
Our guide to switching energy suppliers has more helpful information.
Making improvements yourself
Between 2013 and 2015, households that didn't qualify could apply for the Green Deal. Basically a loan scheme with some grants thrown in, it helped spread the cost of installing energy saving improvements.
There's more in our guide to how it worked here, but the main thing to bear in mind is that it didn't work entirely like a normal loan.
In fact, despite Government funding of new loans being wound up, it's quite possible people who never got one when they were being issued could still end up paying for one.
That's because they're attached to the electricity meter and the property - so anyone who took out a Green Deal loan but then moved was no longer responsible for paying it, but the people moving in would be.
As the Green Deal is currently without funding, homeowners looking for help with improvements should contact the Energy Saving Trust on the numbers given above.
There may also be assistance available from Home Improvement Agencies, local groups that signpost the best services in the area for energy efficiency home adaptations. Search for local agencies here.
It may also be worth taking a look at our guide to energy efficiency here, for more on "extras" like smart meters.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar schemes for free insulation and boiler upgrades, and in Northern Ireland eligible homes can also qualify for new heating systems. Check with each of the scheme providers for eligibility:
In Wales, Nest also offers free assessments and money management help over the phone. Call 0808 808 2244.
In Scotland, Home Energy Efficiency Programmes offer free advice, including home assessments, for everyone, as well as free insulation for those on certain benefits.
In Northern Ireland, the Energy Wise campaign offers advice and grants.