Increase in heating bills due to Working From Home

Baby, it’s cold outside…

26/10/20

Diane Hall

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How many of our readers will be working from home throughout the cold winter months? Given that the government is making many places across the UK Tier 2 or 3—which means employees working from home wherever possible—it’s likely that many of us will be spending the winter within our own four walls, day in, day out, to get our jobs done.


Admittedly, during the national lockdown earlier in the year, the weather wasn’t too bad. We had a great few weeks at the end of April, and whilst May and June didn’t throw up many sunbathing days, the temperature was manageable for those working from home.


Typically, during the winter, when people are at work (i.e. at their employers’ workplaces), their heating at home may run for an hour or so in the morning then again in the evening, when they’re ready to return. Now that people are going to be working in the house all day, how much will their heating bills escalate?


I have a cold house. Its make-up is simply an outer brick wall with an inner lining of waterproof material. I have no cavity within which I could pour loads of lovely insulation. My house also faces north. I have a conservatory on the back that acts as my home office; however, anyone with a conservatory knows, they’re usually too warm in summer and too cold in winter—they never seem to hit an optimum temperature, even with integral/fixed heating. Or maybe it’s just ours.


My choice, therefore, if working from home, is to sit in the freezing cold, north-facing lounge, or the ‘airy’ conservatory that the winter sun never seems to warm. My biggest issue is that I can’t put the heating up too much as my other half works nights, and he would cook like a sausage in bed if I had it above a certain degree.


So, working from home during the winter will equal a very cold few months for me. Had I been able to come to my employers, I would be warm as I work. My boss would also be footing the heating bill.


Am I wrong in thinking that some employers will enjoy significant cost savings with a homeworking staff-force? Low heating, lighting and electricity bills and other costs reduced with a workforce at home…


The £6 flat-rate weekly rebate that homeworkers can claim off their tax bill is nowhere near what some people will be spending after working at home for the full five days. If you’re able to prove to the taxman that your extra work costs are significantly more than this, you may be able to claim more, but there will be a number of hoops to jump through for that.

What some employers may fail to realise is this: if an employee works from home, they are still responsible for them from a health and safety viewpoint. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 covers employed homeworkers; the same rules apply that would be enforceable within the office. For example, this could cover the provision of a suitable workstation, and ergonomic chair to prevent strains and injuries. Their working environment should have adequate ventilation and lighting, and the equipment they use should fit the job they’re carrying out. Homeworkers should have access to eye tests and adjustments such as wrist rests and guards to reduce screen glare, should these be needed (which the employer would need to provide). Any equipment provided must be maintained, whether it’s in the office or within your employees’ homes.


Another responsibility of an employer is to provide first aid equipment for their homeworking employees—how much, and what this equipment should be, depends on the employee’s job role.


Homeworking tends to be a solitary pursuit, yet, under the same 1974 Act, all employees working from home should have the same opportunities for training and development as a worker in the office. Given that many of us could be working alone for the next six months, this may not be an aspect easily dismissed. Imagine what new skills and experience you’d pick up over six whole months in the office. It could be something small, like working with a new software program, or something more significant, like adding a completely new skill to your existing repertoire; my point being, will there be ANY development at all if you’re out of sight and squirreled away at home?


Extra costs, months of isolation, and a lack of opportunities may be things you’ve not thought about, but which you’ll almost certainly experience over the coming season if you’ve been told to work from home.


I don’t think anyone placed much importance on the long-term impact and consequences of millions of new homeworkers during the first lockdown—we had bigger fish to fry. However, now that we know this virus is going to be with us over the next six months and more, these are important topics to discuss between employer and employee—as the latter is heading for the short end of the stick, in my eyes.

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