Lowering Bills and Warming Homes in Brighton and Hove
BHESCo Winter Energy Advice Campaign – 2018 / 19
The UK’s Fuel Poverty Crisis
There are estimated to be 14,593 households in Brighton & Hove who are living in fuel poverty, and over 4 million homes across the UK.
Living in fuel poverty means that residents are unable to adequately heat their homes to a comfortable level, or must make the impossible choice between ‘heating or eating’.
Fuel poverty is an often hidden crisis which reaps an incredible toll on the health and wellbeing of those affected.
Living in a cold home exacerbates the risks of strokes and heart attacks, and can also increase the likelihood of depression and isolation.
You may be surprised to learn that cold homes are in fact one of the biggest killers in the UK, causing more premature deaths than alcohol, drug abuse, or road accidents.
There is also a tremendous economic cost to the UK’s fuel poverty crisis, with figures putting the annual cost to the NHS at £1.3 billion.
What Are The Causes?
For many people energy bills can feel intimidating and overwhelming, especially for those who do not speak English as a first language or who face learning difficulties.
There are also many residents in Brighton and Hove who do not have access to the internet or are not confident using comparison websites. This puts some vulnerable energy customers at a major disadvantage when it comes to shopping around and switching supplier, as the whole industry is heavily geared towards the use of digital platforms.
For all these reasons, four out of every five energy customers across the UK do not engage with the switching process at all, and as a result end up paying much more for their gas and electricity bills than they need to. It has been estimated that, collectively, billpayers in the UK overspend by £2 billion a year.
It is also widely acknowledged that the UK has some of the oldest and most inefficient housing stock in Europe, with 63% of dwellings having an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of D or lower. This means that much of the heat which is generated in the home is wasted through windows, doors, walls and ceilings.
What Are We Doing To Help?
In an effort to reach those most at risk, each winter BHESCo provides free one-to-one support and advice so that people are able to keep warm and stay on top of their energy bills.
With the help of funding provided by the Big Energy Saving Network, we visit food banks and community centres all across the city to show people how to find the cheapest energy deals available, and how to apply for financial support to which they may be eligible.
Using an iPad and a Dongle, we’re able to provide on-the-spot switching advice from anywhere in Brighton and Hove – all people need to do is give us a few minutes of their time and we can hopefully win them some savings.
What Did We Achieve?
In total, we estimate that we’ve helped local residents to save £35,026 on their energy bills, hopefully enabling people to afford to turn the heating on where otherwise they may not have been able to.
We were also able to refer dozens of households for a free home energy survey from Brighton and Hove City Council, which is designed to improve the energy efficiency of cold and draughty homes.
In addition to the financial savings gained for customers of our winter advice programme, we were also able to help people achieve a variety of other valuable outcomes such as getting smart meters installed, understanding bills better, providing up-to-date meter readings, and resolving complaints and queries.
Sometimes, just being there as someone to trust and who understands the jargon can be of immeasurable value to customers.
Working With Brighton Lions Club
Our work was further supported this year by the Brighton Lions Club, who generously paid off £7,022 worth of fuel debts for anyone who had come into arrears with their supplier.
Having access to this debt relief has provided an invaluable lifeline to some of Brighton and Hove’s most vulnerable residents, quite literally changing lives for people who had all but given up hope.
Sharing The Knowledge
In addition to providing one-to-one advice, BHESCo energy advisors also delivered loads of ‘how to’ workshops for other community organisations who are in an ideal position to help those in fuel poverty.
Some of the groups that we delivered training to included East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service volunteers, Sussex Interpreting Services, Voices in Exile, the Emergency Food Network, the Trust For Developing Communities, and Brighton and Hove Council support workers.
Recognition For Our Impact
We were very surprised and extremely humbled to be named as ‘Heat Heroes’ by the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA). The awards ceremony took place in January at the Houses of Parliament, where BHESCo were presented with a beautiful glass trophy. Our local MP, Dr Caroline Lucas, even took time out from her busy schedule to wish us congratulations.
We love being a local energy champion for the Big Energy Saving Network, and while we are very proud to have achieved such a positive impact this winter, we are also quite sad that the campaign must draw to a close for another year.
We are very thankful to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for providing funding for the local energy champions, and to Citizens Advice for administering the programme.
We look forward to taking part in this incredibly valuable community support service again in Autumn 2019.