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Charity boosts fuel poverty support

The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) has seen a 43% increase in enquires to its fuel poverty advice services over the last year, saving people in fuel poverty almost £3m off their energy bills cumulatively, an average of around £190 per household.

CSE answered 21,604 enquiries from 14,465 households in 2020-21 compared to 15,646 enquiries from 10,093 households in the same period 2019-20. Interestingly, there was also a significant increase in demand from single men, a new client group for the charity. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused widespread financial hardship and more households are now classified as being in fuel poverty meaning they are likely to suffer a cold home and making tough choices about how to spend limited budgets; sometimes choosing between heating or food. Compounding this, more people are struggling with energy bills after winter plus lockdown measures meant they were home more.

Cold homes cause misery, ill-health and social exclusion. Currently more than 5m households in the UK can’t afford to keep adequately warm in winter. In the latest estimates, around 10% of households in England were classed as fuel poor, 24% in Scotland, 12% in Wales, and 18% in Northern Ireland.  

Ian Preston, Head of Household Energy Services at CSE said:

Being able to keep healthily warm at home is a basic human need. The fact that we’ve increased our support and reached new people is amazing considering the challenges of lockdown.

Many other public advice agencies operate face to face from drop in centres and when lockdown hit, they had to close. The CSE advice line became one of only a few options for people in need. Many clients have referred to us as a light in the darkness because we provide someone at the end of the phone who genuinely cares and helps.

It was particularly significant that more unemployed single men reached out for support, perhaps linked to industries significantly affected by the pandemic like hospitality workers and taxi drivers and potentially linked to the mood during lockdown which was one of mutual support where people who wouldn’t normally seek help felt they could.

When lockdown hit in March 2020, CSE innovated and adapted services quickly, working with energy industry partners who were also quick to respond. Existing funders like Ofgem’s Energy Redress fund made more funding streams available for emergency financial aid for vulnerable people and new funders like Barclays’ 100×100 fund helped charities provide more support to those needing it most.

When face to face services, like home visits had to stop, CSE advisors worked with clients in other ways including phone support and visiting people in parks and gardens, when restrictions allowed. Other innovations included shifting an entire office based telephone system to home working in less than two weeks and moving CSE support workers from hospitals to foodbanks to continue to reach vulnerable clients. CSE also introduced a variety of new measures to support wellbeing at work for frontline staff.

In addition to advice and support, CSE also manages innovative energy projects, undertakes research and policy analysis and works across community energy projects too. More information is available at www.cse.org.uk

simon@simonfrancis.org

Founder Member of Campaign Collective, chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association Charity and Not-For-Profit Group. Write mainly about charity, public sector and social enterprise campaigns.