Centrica's motion tracker service aims to assist unpaid carers

Firm will install devices in homes of elderly, disabled and ill people for monthly fee

British Gas owner Centrica is planning to put motion trackers in the homes of elderly, ill and disabled people as part of a service aimed at easing the concerns of millions of unpaid carers.

The company has already built a connected home business selling smart thermostats and other devices to more than a million households. In the latest sign of how the UK’s biggest energy company is diversifying away from traditional electricity and gas supply, Centrica’s Hive unit is launching a subscription service to help unpaid carers keep track of those they look after.

The service, which costs £15 a month, plus a one-off £150 charge upfront, will involve British Gas engineers fitting sensors in the home of the person being cared for, with their permission. Carers receive alerts via an app if anything out of the usual routine happens, such as a kettle not being switched on at the same time each day or a room not being entered.

Claire Miles, the managing director of Hive, said the firm had been able to launch the scheme because it had insight from thousands of its employees who are also unpaid carers, as well as the technology and people capable of installing it sensitively.

Miles said: “I can speak from personal experience about how challenging it is for carers, who are often looking after a loved one in their own time, while running their own busy lives.”

She said her 81-year-old mother, who is one of 100 people to have taken part in trials of the technology this year, found the service reassuring and not intrusive. “She’s absolutely fine about it,” said Miles.

Asked if the technology could be seen as reducing the need to visit people, Miles said the service was not intended to replacing caring.

“This is absolutely not a replacement for any care provision. It’s to help the lives of carers and their loved ones, to make it easier to care and improve the quality of conversation and interaction,” she said.

Helen Walker, the chief executive of Carers UK, a charity that has partnered with Centrica on the Hive project, said the initiative would “give carers reassurance, helping them have a life of their own alongside caring and enabling those they support to stay at home and be independent for longer”.

Centrica thinks the potential market for the product runs into millions of households. According to the Social Market Foundation, the number of people caring for a family member in the UK has reached 7.6 million.

Miles said: “I do think it will become an established market. All of the huge social macro trends, like the ageing population, point towards that.”

When it launches in the next few weeks, the Hive Link service will not feature a camera but will include motion sensors, plug sensors – to monitor a regularly used appliance such as a TV – and window and door sensors. In the future, Miles said, the technology could expand to detect falls and provide help with managing medicines.

Contributor

Adam Vaughan

The GuardianTramp

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