There are wads of freebies on offer from energy providers, from new boilers to loft and cavity wall insulation. It's all part of their efficiency obligations to people in certain groups.
This guide shows how to speedily uncover these crocks of gold, including the current offers, who can get them and how to apply.
In this guide
What can you get?
Free stuff – we're talking £1,000s' worth. It’s a sexier phrase than "Energy Company Obligations (ECO) scheme", but they’re the same thing. The big energy providers are now giving free boilers, plus loft and cavity wall insulation, to some who get tax credits and have an income of £15,860 or less or are receiving certain benefits such as pension credit.
Boosting your home's efficiency can save you hundreds of pounds a year on your gas and electricity bills and, just as importantly, make your home a more pleasant place to live.
These schemes are closely linked to the Government's Green Deal initiative. If you don't qualify for the schemes below, it's designed to let you pay for energy-efficient home improvements such as insulation, underfloor heating and double glazing from the 'savings' you make on energy bills. It's complex, so see our Green Deal Mythbuster to decide if it could help you.
Why do energy providers do this?
Big providers have obligations to pump money into making homes more efficient, especially for tough-to-reach groups. If they miss targets, they get big fines.
Don't worry if you're not with the big six. This isn't just about suppliers helping their own customers - these big beasts just need to put money into the system.
What options are there in Northern Ireland?
The offers below aren't available if you live in Northern Ireland. However, there may be some individual schemes offering free insulation. Give the Energy Saving Trust's helpline a call on 0300 123 1234 to see what's available to you.
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Energy providers' freebies used to focus on free loft and cavity wall insulation. Now the big six are giving away boilers to those in certain groups as well.
what can you get?
A new boiler typically costs £2,300, according to the Energy Saving Trust, so this is a fabulous freebie. If your boiler is not an inefficient model, just broken, you may be offered a repair, rather than a new boiler.
The offer includes fitting, though there may be an extra cost if it needs to carry out extra work, for example, if the work means additional radiators or if the boiler needs moving to another location. You should be told about this beforehand.
who can get this?
You are likely to qualify if:
- You get tax credits and have a household income of less than £15,860 OR
- You receive income-based benefits, such as pension credit or income support, and you’ve either, children, a disabled person in the household or are over 60.
You won't be able to get a free boiler if you live in a housing association property or are a council tenant. The idea is they will arrange to do this for you though their own schemes.
The criteria are complex, so a quick way to check if you qualify is to call the Energy Saving Advice Service and answer a few basic questions on 0300 123 1234 (England), 0800 512 012 (Wales) or 0808 808 22 82 (Scotland). Also see providers' criteria in How to get it.
WHAT KIND OF BOILER DO YOU NEED to have?
In a nutshell, to be eligible, you need to have a broken or inefficient boiler. If you've a new-ish, working A or B rated boiler, it probably won't qualify.
This is decided on a case-by-case basis through a free inspection. The providers say it's based on a number of factors, including the boiler's efficiency, age and condition. SSE says: "If the boiler was installed more than seven years ago, it's likely to be inefficient."
The energy companies will usually just replace gas boilers, not oil. Sadly, if you don't have a boiler already, you can't get a new system installed.
How much can you save?
The Energy Saving Trust says boilers account for about 55% of what people spend each year on energy bills, so an efficient boiler makes a big difference. Depending on your boiler's age, a shiny new efficient one could save you up to £300/year.
It's likely new boilers are top of many homebuyers' wishlists, so this could boost your house price too.
How long will it take?
The energy companies say it typically takes four to 12 weeks from when you first apply to get the boiler installed. Fitting the boiler usually takes from a few days to a week, though it varies depending on property.
How to get a free boiler
Just call a provider for a free assessment. You're free to pick any energy company - you don't need to be a customer.
All deals are ongoing, with no limit on the number of free installations. If you apply, we'd love to hear your Free boiler experiences. Here's a rundown:
- EDF Energy. Fill out an application form online or call 0800 096 8634. See its eligibility criteria. If the boiler installation requires extra work, such as additional radiators, in some cases EDF Energy may ask for a contribution. It will let you know beforehand.
- E.on. Apply via E.on's site or call 0330 4001195. See its eligibility criteria. Eon says there may be an extra charge if it needs to carry out extra work, for example, putting in additional radiators or moving a boiler to another location. It will let you know beforehand.
- British Gas. British Gas (BG) is working with the Energy Savings Advice Service (on 0300 123 1234) to offer new boilers. Call the helpline to see if you're eligible. You can then tell them you'd like British Gas, or another provider, to install the boiler.
BG says it will endeavour to cover the full cost of installation, but there may be charges for extra work, eg, asbestos removal, new piping or if you request an alternative boiler model.
- Npower. Apply on Npower's site or call 0800 980 3355. Also see its eligibility checker.
- Scottish Power. Apply on Scottish Power's site.
- Scottish & Southern (SSE). Fill out an online enquiry form. See its eligibility criteria. SSE says installations are subject to a survey. If replacing your boiler will not save enough energy to help it meet its targets or there are technical problems, it may ask you to contribute towards an installation. It will let you know beforehand. If this happens, it's worth trying another provider instead.
Free loft and cavity wall insulation
Cavity wall and loft insulation can slice about £300 off energy bills each year, and energy firms are offering them free to certain groups.
what can you get?
The big six providers are giving away free loft and cavity wall insulation.
- Cavity wall insulation. Most homes built since 1920 have a gap between internal and external walls. Filling the cavity with insulating mineral wool and foam means cold air's kept out, and warm air stays in.
- Loft insulation. Up to a quarter of your home's heat escapes through the roof, but you can solve this by laying mineral wool under the rafters.
who can get this?
You need to get child tax credit and have an income of £15,860 or less or are receiving certain benefits such as pension credit. See the providers' eligibility criteria below.
You won't be able to get a free insulation if you live in a housing association property or are a council tenant. The idea is they will arrange to do this for you though their own schemes.
A quick way to check if you qualify is to call the Energy Saving Trust and answer a few basic questions on 0300 123 1234 (England), 0800 512 012 (Wales) or 0808 808 22 82 (Scotland).
Is your property suitable?
Not all properties are suitable for cavity wall or loft insulation. Most providers conduct a free survey.
You usually won't qualify if...
- You live in a flat and can't co-ordinate with all other tenants.
- Your home is timber or metal-framed, or made from natural stone or concrete.
- If you've damp problems. The Energy Saving Trust says you should sort these out first.
Also note you may need to pay extra for scaffolding to get the insulation fitted. These costs aren't included in some offers.
How much can you save?
The Energy Saving Trust reckons cavity insulation typically costs £450 to £500 to install, and can save an average three-bedroom home up to £140/year on its bills. Loft insulation costs about £300 and can save £180 per year.
How to get free insulation
Just call a provider for a free assessment. You're free to pick any provider - you don't need to be a customer. If you qualify for it, our top pick is British Gas, as it gives free £50 in vouchers. If not, see our full rundown of other providers below.
- How to apply: Check suitability on the British Gas website, then call 0800 077 4201.
Free £50 voucher if you refer friends & family: British Gas is offering a £50 M&S voucher
to anyone who refers someone on qualifying benefits to get free insulation. The household installing the insulation also gets £50. See a full list of qualifying benefits.
Neither of you have to be British Gas customers, and you can refer as many people as you like to get a £50 voucher each time. To get the voucher, the person who needs the insulation must call 0800 787 0575, and let British Gas know the referrer's name and address.
The voucher will be sent within 30 days of installation completion, though bear in mind the installation process can take some time.
You can only get it if British Gas can insulate a minimum of two-thirds of the available loft space (when applied to the whole loft surface area) or available cavity wall space (when applied to the whole house).
For loft insulation, the offer only applies where the thickness of existing insulation is less than 60mm. Not all homes are suitable for loft and/or cavity wall insulation. The offer excludes the cost of scaffolding, vents and any specialist equipment if they're needed.
If you don't qualify, these providers also give free insulation. All offers are ongoing, with no limit on the number of free installations.
- EDF Energy. Fill out an application form online or call 0800 096 8634. See its eligibility criteria.
- E.on. Apply via E.on's site or call 0330 4001195. See its eligibility criteria.
- Npower. Apply on Npower's site or call 0800 072 1740. Also see its eligibility checker.
- Scottish Power. Apply on Scottish Power's site.
- Scottish & Southern. Call 0800 975 2844 or fill out an online enquiry form. See its eligibility criteria.
Questions and answers
Q. Will my house be suitable for cavity wall insulation?
A. Not all houses will be suitable for cavity wall insulation. According to the Energy Saving Trust, your home will usually be suitable for cavity wall insulation if:
- Its external walls are unfilled cavity walls.
- The cavity is at least 50mm wide.
- The masonry or brickwork of your property is in good condition.
- It is more than 10 years old (most newer houses will have insulation already).
- The walls are not exposed to driving rain.
Q. I rent my property, can I get the freebies?
A. It depends on which scheme you're applying to, so do check. But normally you'll be allowed, with the landlord's permission.
Q. I live in a flat, am I still eligible?
A. You should be able to install free home improvements in flats, but you may have to get it installed for the whole block, which means getting agreement from all your neighbours.
Q. Is there any help if I've got solid walls?
A. Anyone who needs solid wall or 'hard to treat' cavity wall insulation may be entitled to free cash from energy providers to help. You can either pay the remaining cost off yourself or take out a Green Deal loan to pay for it.
What are solid walls?
About 7 million homes in Britain were built with solid rather than cavity walls – 31% of the total housing stock.
Solid walls are much harder to insulate than cavity walls. With a cavity wall, you can often easily fill in the cavity with foam and mineral wool for less than £500. However, to insulate a solid wall, you need to add material either to the outside or the inside of a wall.
How to get help
It's still early days for the scheme, so many providers are still setting things up. If you pay a Green Deal assessor about £120 to visit your home, they will work out where, in an energy sense, it's leaking cash and should let you know if you're eligible for extra help from energy providers. For a full explanation, see the Green Deal guide.
Don't shell out for an assessment before doing an online check first. The easy 'n' speedy way to see what improvements could help is answering a few questions on 1 Green Place's home survey tool (this is from an assessor organisation, so be aware it may contact you).
Q. I don't qualify for free insulation, how can I get it cheaply?
A. If you don't qualify for the schemes above, first check out the Government's Green Deal initiative. It's designed to let you pay for energy-efficient home improvements such as insulation, underfloor heating and double glazing from the 'savings' you make on energy bills. It's complex, so see our Green Deal Mythbuster to decide.
If you don't want to get the Green Deal, look for an installer on the National Insulation Association site. As a benchmark, The Energy Saving Trust reckons cavity insulation typically costs £450 to £500 to install, and loft insulation about £300.
The DIY route could work out cheaper for loft insulation at about £150. For more help, Homebuilding magazine has a handy step-by-step guide to insulating your loft.
Not answered your question? Ask it in the forum discussion and we'll add generic ones here.
The energy-saving basics
Also ensure you're on the cheapest energy tariff and do the energy-saving basics:
Consider fixing to beat price hikes
Eon's price hike means all of the big six energy providers have now upped prices. Right now you can beat hikes by locking in with a cheap fix, though this could be your last chance. For more on this, plus top fixes, see Cheap Gas & Elec.
Our Cheap Energy Club checks you're on the cheapest deal and handles the switch for you. Plus to encourage you, there's up to £30 extra if you switch via Cheap Energy Club.
It's the same gas, the same electricity, the same safety. All that changes are the customer service and the price you pay.
Thrifty heat-saving tips
If you wander round the house in boxers or bra 'n' knickers with radiators on full and windows wide open... STOP IT.
Sensible changes can save you large, from draught excluders to notching down the thermostat. Here are a few thrifty ways to keep your home toasty.
For more tips, join the Old Style forum board's Prepare for Winter thread. Also see the Great Energy-Saving Hunt and our Energy Mythbusting guide. If you use heating oil to heat your home, you can save too. Follow simple steps to cut costs in our Cheap Heating Oil guide.
Make your own sausage dog draft excluder
Draught excluders stop heat escaping in gaps between the door and the floor. For a cheap version, roll up a towel and use that instead.
If you are the creative type you can always make your own sausage dog draft excluder from an old pair of woolly tights filled with some stuffing or old socks (use buttons for eyes).
Line curtains with cheap fleece
Chunky window-wear, especially lined and insulated, will keep the warmth in. If you're on a budget, line curtains yourself with cheap fleece blankets (from about £2 at places like Ikea and Asda). See how to line your own curtains with fleece.
Remember, the sun can also help heat your house. During the daytime, keep curtains open and let it do the work for you.
Keep doors closed
It's better to keep doors closed for the area you want heated. Radiators, electric panel heaters and convection heaters all work by creating a convection current in a room. As hot air rises, it circles around to the other side of the room, cools and sinks and travels back along the floor to the heater to be reheated again.
Keep windows closed too. According to not for profit energy company Ebico, 25% of heat is lost through open doors and windows.
Put shelves above radiators
Even if you are not handy with DIY and your shelving slopes like a ski resort, a well-placed ledge can help. Putting a shelf above a radiator helps prevent the heat rising, especially if you have high ceilings, keeping the warmth closer to the ground.
However, don’t put any shelving directly on top of a radiator, which will trap the heat rather than channelling it around the room.
Don't leave the heating on low all day
You'll save energy, and therefore money, by only having the heating on when it's required. Using a timer is best, because your thermostat is designed to turn your heating system on and off to keep your home at the temperature you set it.
If you’re really worried about getting chilly, switch the timer on a little bit earlier, so the house will be nice and toasty when needed, but you’re not pumping out energy all day.
Put reflective panels behind radiators
Most heat, 35% in fact, is lost through external walls. Radiator reflector panels bounce heat back into the room rather than let it pass through external walls. The Energy Saving Trust says homes with uninsulated walls will get most benefit.
Don't assume dual fuel is always cheapest
Logically, dual fuel (gas and electricity from the same supplier) should be cheaper and it often is, yet not always.
During your comparison, also check the cost of the cheapest dual fuel supplier against separate cheap gas and cheap electricity suppliers.
switch to monthly direct debit
Fixed monthly direct debit payments, where you pay a fixed estimate each month, save you 5-10%, as companies are sure you won't default and they earn interest on any overpayments. These should be refunded at the end of the year.
Do a meter reading every time
Every time you receive a bill, do a meter reading. Don't rely on your energy provider's estimate; these are often way out. If they're under-billing, you'll have a big whack to pay at the end of the year. If they're over-billing, then they've unfairly got your cash.
If your direct debit is way off-kilter, call up and request it's changed. You have a range of rights to ensure it's correct. See the full Energy Direct Debits guide for template letters to help.
switch to your company's internet tariff
It'll usually save you up to 10% over the standard tariff, and all it really means is you get your bills emailed.
Avoid prepayment meters if you can
While a push from the Government means it's getting better, those on prepayment meters are still pretty hard done by compared with those who pay by direct debit. If possible, try to switch to a billed meter. You may have to pay to get one, but the savings are usually worth it.
Often, firms won't let you, due to credit score or income difficulties. For full info on how to ditch a prepayment meter for a credit meter - or if you can't, how to save on a prepay meter - see the full Cheap Prepaid Gas & Elec guide.