Sunday, 13 January 2008

The energy offer that really is a dead Cert

It's not often Guardian Money reports a genuine giveaway with no strings attached, but this is one. Starting this week, British Gas is offering anyone over 70 free home insulation worth around £600.

Amazingly, the offer is made regardless of income and you don't even need to be a British Gas customer. The initiative, which is part of the government's carbon emissions reduction target (Cert) scheme, will offer both cavity wall and loft insulation entirely free of charge to every homeowner in the UK who is either older than 70, or receiving certain benefits.

Parliament was told about the scheme in December and it came into effect at the beginning of this year. Cert obliges energy suppliers to promote reductions in carbon emissions for households. The companies are required to spend £1.5bn over the next three years to install energy efficiency measures in the homes of people on low incomes and the elderly.

Until now, grants to improve household energy efficiency were means tested. But now anyone who qualifies can apply to have their home insulated for nothing.

British Gas is the first to launch its scheme, and its measure is expected to be copied by the remaining big six power firms over the coming months.

Crucially, you don't have to buy your energy from British Gas to take up the offer, which is worth around £600 if you get both loft and cavity wall insulation fitted - more if you have a big house.

British Gas estimates that £1 in every £3 currently spent on heating UK homes is wasted due to poor insulation. Almost 9m UK homes have cavity walls that are waiting to be insulated. In England alone, around 40% of homes either have no loft insulation, or have less than 100mm (3.9in) of heat-retaining material in place, it says.

The Energy Savings Trust warns that around a third of a home's heat disappears through the walls. Good cavity wall insulation will save around £90 a year on heating bills, while proper loft insulation - 270mm deep - should save an average of £110 a year.

To take up British Gas's offer, simply ring 0845 6052535 (quoting code JOU). The firm will send a surveyor to establish whether your home has cavity walls and measure the thickness and quality of any insulation already in place. If your insulation is not up to modern standards British Gas will pay for further insulation material to be installed. If it is very old, it may replace the loft insulation entirely. There are no fees to pay, and Money has been assured there is no limit to the funds on offer and no risk that the offer will close a few months down the line.

The company says anyone installing both cavity wall and loft insulation will save up to £200 a year in energy bills, reducing CO2 emissions and helping the company hit its target.

At the end of the year Ofgem, the energy regulator, will calculate how much energy has been saved by each firm. It said this week that around £38 is being added to each household's gas and electricity's to pay for the Cert scheme.

A spokesman for British Gas says this is a no-strings offer available across the UK as long as the recipients fit the criteria. "Everyone over 70 is immediately eligible where they are a British Gas customer or whether they get their energy from one of our rivals. The same goes for those on particular benefits - regardless of their age. The aim is to improve the insulation of the homes in most need. If you think you may qualify, give the call centre a call and our staff will be able to talk you through the process."

Benefits include disability and attendance allowance, and income support. People who get working tax credit and earn less than £14,600 also qualify.

The scheme is not restricted to homeowners. Anyone living in social or privately rented housing, and getting the benefits can also apply - with the landlord's approval.

Meanwhile, if you live in London and want to start using low-energy light bulbs, British Gas is offering to do a swap. Anyone turning up at a B&Q store in the London area is being offered the chance to trade two conventional bulbs for a low energy model. The scheme, which is being run in conjunction with the mayor's office, ends tomorrow.

· Following npower's price increases last week - almost 20% for gas and 13% for electricity - its 4m customers are being advised to switch to another firm as "wherever they go they'll save money". If you want to insulate yourself from future rises, go for Scottish Power's PriceFall tariff, which guarantees prices will not rise before November. You'll have to be quick as it's now only available from the company's subsidiary website ( and is likely to be pulled soon.

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