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‘Uncomfortable and cold’: Brits might be about to ditch home working as heating bills soar

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“There’s a point when energy bills are hike[d] so high that it would be cheaper to commute to work than heat your home during the day, and for some people it will be enough to prompt a return to work,” said Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
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LONDON — High heating bills and the prospect of working in a cold and uncomfortable house this winter might soon push more Brits to go back into the office.

Seven in 10 (14%) of 2,000 people surveyed plan to spend more time working from the office to reduce home energy bills, according to research by price comparison site MoneySuperMarket. This figure increases to almost a quarter (23%) when looking at 18-to-24 year olds.

The U.K.’s annual energy price cap is poised to increase to more than ?3,500 ($4,131) this year and one fuel poverty charity is urging the government to take action “urgently” to tackle the problem.

Energy consultancy Auxilione estimates the price cap, currently at ?1,971 a year, could climb to as high as ?6,089 next April as Britain’s cost-of-living crisis worsens. The price cap essentially limits the amount a supplier can charge for their tariffs, but this limit has surged higher recently due to the rise in wholesale prices — meaning Brits have seen bills skyrocket.

Meanwhile, around one in seven working adults in the U.K. worked from home between April 28 and May 8, according to the Office for National Statistics. That number could change as bills surge, according to Matt Copeland, head of policy and public affairs at fuel poverty charity National Energy Action.

“The massive energy bill hikes that are coming in October and January are going to push workers to think about how they can keep costs down. It might be that they would rather use their office’s energy rather than their own,” Copeland told CNBC.

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, can also see workers opting to go back to the office as bills skyrocket.

“There’s a point when energy bills are hike[d] so high that it would be cheaper to commute to work than heat your home during the day, and for some people it will be enough to prompt a return to work,” she said.

The cost difference between home working and going to the office is also largely dependent on the mode of transport, Coles said.

“Someone taking a commuter train into London is going to face much higher costs than someone taking the bus locally. At the same time, someone in a modern flat will have far lower heating costs than someone in a large, draughty, Victorian house,” Coles told CNBC.

Those traveling to work by train typically spend ?136 a week on their commute, while car costs add up to ?80 per week on average, according to Confused.com data from 2021.

Incidental spending

Spending associated with being in the office doesn’t stop at the commute either, and huge amounts of money can be saved by working from home.

“There’s also everything from the work wardrobe to lunches, coffees and the incidental spending that comes with being out and about during the day. This all needs to be factored into your calculations,” Coles said.

Better work-life balance and productivity are two major reasons people have continued to work from home now that most offices have reopened, and those conveniences could continue to outweigh the additional cost of heating homes, Coles told CNBC.

“Those who choose to work from home will have decided that this works best for them, whether that’s because they have caring responsibilities, they work better in the home environment, or they’ve got a lockdown dog they don’t want to leave,” Coles said.

“For them, even if it becomes more expensive to stay home, the other issues may mean they choose to stay at home,” she said.

This year there has been an increase in hybrid arrangements — working from home and going into an office on a regular basis — with 24% of people doing both between April 27 and May 8, according to ONS data.

“If people are spending every day in an uncomfortable and cold house, the prospect of a warm office without the worry of extra bills could tip the balance,” Coles said.

Tough choices

Working parents’ set-up is increasingly influenced by the rising cost of living, according to Mandy Garner, managing editor at WM People, an online platform promoting best practice and diversity in the workplace.

“Our annual survey which we are just [analyzing] shows that while working from home is definitely something many still want, pay has now become the most important thing for many parents with many in debt, but there are other concerns,” Garner said.

“For instance, childcare availability is a rising issue for many and some wraparound care and particularly childcare for special needs kids is not back to normal,” she said.

Meanwhile, National Energy Action is asking the U.K. government to offer more support to people making these decisions.

“To prevent people making tough choices, the UK government urgently needs to upgrade the energy bill support package and work with the regulator to introduce a social tariff,” Copeland told CNBC.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy responded to CNBC’s request for comment with the following statement.

“”We know the pressures people are facing with rising costs, which is why we have continually taken action to help households by phasing in ?37 billion worth of support,” a spokesperson said.

“We are giving a ?400 discount on energy bills this winter and eight million of the most vulnerable households will see ?1,200 extra support,” they said.

“While no Government can control global gas prices, over 22 million households are protected by the price cap which continues to insulate households from even higher prices,” the statement concluded.

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