The effect of increased living costs on children with brain injuries and their families
The cost of living crisis is affecting millions of us around the country. Household energy bills increased by 54% in April 2022 and were due to increase by a further 80% in October, before the Energy Price Guarantee was announced, limiting this further increase to 27%; a welcome help, but still a huge increase compared to this time last year.
I’m sure most of us don’t need to be reminded of these statistics. We are all experiencing higher costs of living. It is affecting so many aspects of daily life, from heating our homes, to doing the weekly shop. For those living with an acquired brain injury and their families, these increases are particularly worrying. There is a rising call for the Government to help families with disabled children with their extra energy costs during the cost of living crisis.
As a solicitor who represents children who have experienced a brain injury resulting from negligence, I see how rising costs are affecting our clients and their families.
Our clients have wide ranging additional needs to support their daily living and access to the community. Often these children require extra electricity or energy use. They might be reliant on pieces of electronic equipment such as a powered wheelchair that requires charging, feeding pumps that need to be plugged in at all times or use of assistive technology like an eye gaze machine to aid their communication. For some, there might be extra washing costs due to continence issues. Others might use height adjustable beds or ceiling track hoists to move comfortably around their homes.
Laura Robertson- Hayes, one of my colleagues in the Child Brain Injury Team highlighted some of the reasons why children with cerebral palsy are more likely to struggle with body temperature regulation in her blog earlier this year. She says: “For some children, the cerebral palsy will have caused neurologically impaired thermoregulation. Others are more likely to feel the cold because of limits to their mobility and their ability to communicate to their care givers.” For these children, their homes must be kept at stable temperatures. They might also use equipment when out and about to maintain their body temperatures such as flasks, warming dishes or heated blankets to keep them warm on the go.
Our clients and their families already spend more on these essential items so this issue isn’t a new one. In their 2019 Disability Price Tag report, Scope found that families with disabled children, on average, face extra costs of £581 a month. For almost a quarter (24%) of families with disabled children, extra costs amount to over £1,000 a month.
More recently, Contact, an organisation which supports families with disabled children, conducted research which found 85% of families with disabled children use more energy due to their child’s condition.
So, it’s not surprising that the cost of living crisis is hitting those with additional needs harder. Disabled households are twice as likely to be struggling with cost of living crisis. 
What support is available?
Energy companies have some additional obligations if the family have a child with disabilities. The Priority Services Register is available to vulnerable customers. This includes households with children who have a disability or long-term medical condition. A range of services and protections are available to those who are registered but families must contact their energy suppliers to register their household on the Priority Services Register. If you have different suppliers for gas and electricity, you need to contact both providers and ask to be registered.
Suppliers that have signed up to Energy UK’s Vulnerability Commitment cannot knowingly disconnect a vulnerable customer at any time of the year. You can check if your supplier has signed up to the Vulnerability Commitment on the Energy UK website or by contacting them directly.
The Government also announced additional costs of living payments to help those with disabilities and their families, acknowledging the higher disability-related costs they often face. This is comprised of one-off payments available to those who are in receipt of qualifying disability benefit.
Again, this is a help, but is it enough?
Contact’s ‘Out of Energy’ campaign is calling on the government and energy companies to introduce a special tariff for households with sick and disabled children due to rising bills. This would help to recognise the extra costs facing disabled households.
In the Child Brain Injury Team, we work closely with our clients and their families and treating therapy teams to understand their additional needs and what support they might require as a result of their brain injury. We understand that all children and all cases are different and our focus is to adopt a tailored approach to each one of our clients.
The compensation that we obtain for our clients funds incredible, life-changing equipment. Our expert therapists can recommend specialist assistive technology which is changing the way that children with brain injuries can interact with those around them, access their environment and education and, importantly, have fun with their families and friends.
This equipment is amazing and makes a huge difference to the life of our clients but it’s not just the initial cost of these items that we consider when valuing a claim; we work with our medico-legal experts in the claim to understand the long-term additional costs to our clients, whether it be the electricity costs of charging a powered wheelchair or assistive technology or the additional heating costs to maintain our clients body temperature.
The unprecedented rise in energy costs must be factored in when we are valuing our client’s claims. This year, more than ever, it is vital that these increasing costs are captured to ensure that our clients receive the support and compensation that they need.