The Coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine have shaken up global energy markets and driven up energy prices to record levels. This has left millions of households across the UK struggling to keep up with the cost of their heat and power needs, with many having to choose between heating and eating.
Fuel poverty is a largely hidden crisis but one which blights the lives of low-income families across the country, and especially in Brighton where the high cost of housing makes life challenging for so many,
BHESCo are very proud to have been on the frontlines of fuel poverty alleviation in Brighton and Hove since 2014, working hard to make homes warmer, healthier and safer to live in, and helping clients to tackle debts and reduce ongoing costs.
We have supported thousands of households throughout the city, and wanted to share a few particularly powerful examples of the impact of our interventions…
Case Study 1 - Maya
Maya came to England in 2015 as a young Indian bride. She was ‘gifted’ a house in Hove as part of an arranged marriage. She is 36 now, and her ex-husband is 75.
She is recently divorced, after enduring an abusive marriage, and was cast out of the family with no means of income or support and no recourse to public funds.
She took refuge with Shelter Charity and support from Southall Black Sister organisation, who helped her with universal credit application and to get her back in her home.
How did BHESCo help?
BHESCo received a self-referral from Maya asking for our help. She was in crisis and was very stressed about her accumulating energy debts. We arranged a home visit within 48 hours. She had received a high energy bill and couldn’t understand why. She needed help to call the energy supplier. We called them and it appeared that the bills had been previously estimated, not actual readings. They had backdated them to June and put them in the August statement which increased the bill to £194.82, when it should usually £15 – £20 per month.
The energy supplier couldn’t offer any financial support, so BHESCo referred Maya for an Energyworks grant from Brighton & Hove Citizens Advice for £200.00. Within 24 hours the debt had been cleared by Energyworks.
Additionally, BHESCo signposted Maya to an ex- BHESCo client who is involved with a BME Women’s Support group, and they have offered to help her with the transition to her new life here as she is unable to return to India.
Case Study 2 - Ethan
Ethan was referred to BHESCo by Money Advice Plus, a local agency who support clients with debt and budgeting. Ethan is recovering from drug addiction and has a disability and is in receipt of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independent Payment (PIP).
He previously could not keep up with his bills or effectively maintain his accommodation. He is now in recovery and is getting help to clean and clear out his council flat.
The flat is in a bad condition. The carpets need changing and new bedroom doors need to be fitted. There is a leak in the corridor that’s made the carpet damp and mouldy.
How did BHESCo help?
A BHESCo energy advisor visited the home to understand the situation and the best course of action. We called EDF wit the client and provided meter readings because the bills were based on estimates.
We established that the gas bill is £1,756, which was less than the £2,000 that had been quoted on Ethan’s August 2023 bill.
He is in credit £684.10 on his electric account. EDF are going to send an updated bill shortly.
Ethan is in credit for his electricity because £53 has been going into his electric account from his benefits and the Government subsidies of £400 in winter 2022 / 2023 also went on the electric.
Previously, Fuel Direct payments from Ethan’s benefits has gone towards his gas account However, Ethan remembers getting a letter telling him that the payments towards the gas were stopping because they no longer covered his monthly usage, but his mental health was not good at the time and he did not have the capacity to set up a new payment method. BHESCo did not set up a repayment plan or Direct Debit for the gas on this call because Ethan is unsure about paying by Direct Debit or how much he can afford per month.
BHESCo set Ethan up with the EDF mobile phone app so he can follow his bills and provide meter readings using the app from now on.
BHESCo are in the process of helping Ethan to set up a Fuel Direct payment towards his ongoing gas usage and debt. Most of the credit from the electric account can also be moved over to the gas account, so that will reduce the debt substantially.
BHESCo will provide Adam with a thermal curtain for the window in the living room where he spends most of his time. I will also raise a complaint with the council about the leak in his corridor.
Do you or someone you know need help with your energy bills?
BHESCo is able to provide free, expert, one-to-one advice on energy bills throughout winter 2023 / 2024.
By advising clients on choosing the cheapest energy tariffs and helping people to access top-up vouchers and energy grants we are able to reduce the amount of money that people have to pay each month to their energy company.
Furthermore, if you live in Brighton and Hove, our Energy Saving Team can visit your home to install free light-touch measures like draught excluders and LED lights, as well as assessing your eligibility for more significant measures like insulation.
All of these services are free, but are aimed towards those on a low-income and have a health risk associated with living in a cold home, e.g. young children, those over sixty, those with a disability.