For some, the recent change in weather might bring about a sad nostalgia for their beach holiday, or it might just mean the ceremonial putting their summer wardrobe to bed for another year. But for others, the turn of season offers only the impending dread of trying to balance their household income, or even their increasing debt, against a new challenge of higher energy bills.
This is something that 361 Community Energy in North Devon is working hard to tackle through their Empower fuel poverty service; one that we at Devon Community Foundation are pleased to have been able to support with grants from the Surviving Winter Appeal.
This particular project, of which the social enterprise has many, is taking the deliberate action of reaching out to those in fuel debt through a range of innovative means, including working alongside healthcare professionals, through which they acknowledge that winter poverty can also have a damaging effect on health.
This project has a health and social care focus to support those disadvantaged by health and mental health issues exacerbated by struggling to pay utility bills or living in a cold home.
As well as hosting a long list of events such as memory cafes, coffee mornings, soup kitchens, parent and toddler groups, plus traditional eco fairs and energy switching events, 361 Energy Action have identified the health-care sector domain as having good places of outreach to those who may be additionally vulnerable due to existing health conditions - and those include hospital foyers and medical centres as well as hospital events, flu/asthma/COPD/diabetes clinics and more.
Once engaged, 361’s clients benefited from their expertise and experience over three main areas – income maximisation, reducing bills and improving energy efficiency.
They told us how they helped one resident and her full-time carer in rural Devon.
“Our Energy Advisor met Gordon and Elizabeth through a health partner referral and helped them with case work over several visits. Elizabeth who is only 40, suffers from MS and is very disabled by it. Gordon is her full-time carer.
They were in fuel debt, so our advisor negotiated a more affordable payment plan with their supplier and also helped them with a successful energy trust grant to get the debt written off. She helped them change to a cheaper supplier and they successfully applied for the Warm Home discount. Our advisor also completed a water care application for a discount on their water bills. In addition she referred them to Income Max where they now receive a higher rate of PiP which made a big difference financially. Emma has had a hoist, wet room and specialist bed installed and they were also referred to the local council for a hazard referral.
One of the other issues was that they had been unable to heat their property properly due to a broken storage heater. Our advisor helped them track down a local installer and with their help the heater is now working well. Gordon also approached the British Legion separately who have paid for home improvements and a holiday to a country house.
The total extra money they have each year from savings on bills and extra coming in is £2,180.”
Another benefit of 361’s collaboration with the health sector is that, thanks to funding received, they have also been able to deliver training to front line workers and volunteers themselves.
In the year from April 2018 to April 2019 we delivered frontline worker training to 235 frontline workers including teams from the NHS such as district nurses and occupational therapists.
And been on the receiving end of some guidance themselves:
As a result we are now in a better position to advise people about their energy bills, but also identify health and wellbeing issues while we are out on visits.
To find out more about 361 Community Energy visit their website here.
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