Making Life Easier – Helping Householders Convert to Natural Gas in Flintshire

 In Home Loans

When Sian Jones and her husband experienced a winter of prolonged ill health, which affected their ability to run and maintain their two solid fuel wood burning stoves, she knew it was time for a change but was concerned about the cost of buying and installing a new, more manageable heating system which could keep them both warm and safe, particularly in the cold winter months.

Luckily, Flintshire County Council was rolling out a Natural Gas In-Fill Scheme in the rural coastal area of Mostyn where they live. They heard about the scheme from a newsletter that was posted through their door and learnt more about the scheme by attending a community open event at the local village hall, organised by the County Council.

Sian decided to request more information about the Natural Gas In-Fill Scheme. She filled in the councils Initial Enquiry Form, which asked for basic information about the household to enable the Council to investigate any financial help she was entitled too. Due to Mrs Jones’ husband being over 70, and the amount of their income that they had to spend on heating their home, they were entitled to a Wales & West Gas Voucher, which gave the couple a discount of £3,333 towards the cost of their gas connection. This brought the cost of installing the gas to their home down to £1,222.

However, the cost of installing the new gas central heating system and taking out the old wood burners and back boiler was still considerable, and as they had a small pension they were excluded from any other financial assistance such as grant funding. Luckily, as part of the Gas In-Fill Scheme the Council has teamed up with Robert Owen Community Banking Fund to offer affordable, low interest loans. Mr & Mrs Jones decided to make enquiries about the loan. They contacted Robert Owen, who arranged for their dedicated Flintshire ‘Monergy’ worker to visit them. Flintshire Monergy has been launched in partnership with Flintshire County Council’s Affordable Warmth team, the renewable energy developer West Coast Energy and the North Wales Energy Advice Centre. The partnership aims to help people living with high energy bills replace their old and inefficient heating systems with new ones, using an approach that is both affordable and effective.

The Monergy worker provided an illustration of how much the couple would repay on their loan and for how long, so that they knew exactly what the loan commitment involved. The Monergy worker also went through the couples’ household income and outgoings to make sure they could comfortably afford the monthly repayments. The North Wales Energy Advice Centre also provided an illustration of how much the couple would save per annum by switching from solid fuel to natural gas.

The couple took a little time to think about the loan and the costs involved. They also considered the other advantages that the natural gas central heating system would bring, including ease of use and controllability. They also considered that should they both be ill again during the winter, they wouldn’t have to worry about collecting fire wood or making sure a fire was cleaned and made every day.

Although, the couple weren’t sure that the loan application would be successful they decided that they would apply and see what happened, especially as the loan interest rate (6.25% APR) was far lower than anything that they had been offered by the high street banks. When they had previously applied for a high street bank loan, they had been offered a rate in excess of 14% APR. The loan was very easy to apply for and the Flintshire Monergy worker helped them through the process step by step, to ensure the form was filled out properly and the required supporting information was sent with the application to Robert Owen Community Bank.

Here at Robert Owen we assess each loan application on its merits. We do not just assess an applicant’s ability to service the debt, but also look at the households other commitments and income and the purpose of the loan. This assessment is done by a human being and the loan interest rate that is offered to applicants is the rate that is advertised, so there are no bitter sweet surprises when a loan is approved, but at a much higher rate than was expected. Great news for the Jones’, the £5,000 loan was approved within 14 days, at the agreed rate of 6.25% APR repayable over 5 years.

The Jones’ were then able to transfer the grid connection element of the loan to Flintshire County Council, who managed all the work by arranging work dates and liaising with Wales & West, who control the natural gas pipeline in Wales. The pipeline to the property was laid in less than a day with the minimum of disruption, using a mechanical mole to burrow under the ground rather than by digging a trench to the property.

Once the natural gas pipeline had been connected to the house, the Jones’ were assisted to apply for a gas meter for the property by Flintshire County Council’s Affordable Warmth Team. The meter was fitted free of charge by the Jones’ chosen energy supplier, but some suppliers do charge so it is well worth shopping around. Once the meter was installed, a heating engineer was able to install the gas central heating, which comprised a high efficiency combination condensing boiler, an easy to use programmer and 9 radiators with thermostatic radiator valves.

The Jones’ are very happy with how the work has gone. “Overall, the whole process took just under five weeks from start to finish. It was very quick and straightforward.” Mr and Mrs Jones have noticed a real difference at home: “Our new boiler is much more efficient, controllable and convenient than the old wood burning stove and back boiler. Our home has quite big rooms with high ceilings, but it now takes less time to heat up and is warmer than before, which is great.”

As well as helping to arrange the low cost loan the Flintshire Monergy Worker signed the Jones’ up for the North Wales Energy Advice Centre’s free money and energy saving advice and tips. Mrs Jones said: “I would urge anyone in the same position as us to take up the loan to change to natural gas. We are now saving money on our energy bills, we are more comfortable and we no longer have the worry about making sure we have enough wooden logs to last the winter or the hassle of cleaning and making a fire every day.

The money and energy advice offered by Flintshire Monergy is really helpful and you can find out exactly what help you are entitled to and what you can afford to repay back per month if you need to take the loan out. Also, it helps you work out what you will save per month by upgrading to natural gas and a more efficient heating system. We also found out that we were eligible for other money saving measures – like low cost external wall insulation. Getting a new boiler has made our lives a whole lot easier and we can now look forward to a warmer winter with real peace of mind.”

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