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National fuel poverty charity sees huge increase in calls for support from people in cold homes

THE Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), one of the UK’s leading sustainable energy organisations supporting people suffering from cold homes and high energy bills, have seen thousands more households reaching out for support throughout the pandemic.

The charity, which provides advice and financial support nationally, but mostly across the South West of England, has seen a 43% increase in enquires over the last year, saving people in fuel poverty almost £3m (£2,761,712) 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. More households are now classified as being in fuel poverty, meaning they are likely to suffer a cold home and make 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.”

Wider trends on the CSE advice line in 2020/21 included;

  • An increase in calls from single men – a new client group. Before the pandemic, support was usually taken up by low-income families, single parents, pensioners and people with health needs.
  • An increase in people who are suffering from mental health issues and more calls from people who feel suicidal.
  • Calls taking much longer, probably due to increased social isolation.
  • Normally CSE’s advice line is busiest at the beginning of winter as people turn on their heating. In 2020-21, there was no notable peak, it was constantly busy throughout the summer.
  • CSE received double the amount of referrals from local authorities and more word of mouth referrals than ever.

Ian Preston continued: 

“The increase in our advice line calls confirm what we already know, that people in fuel poverty need more support. CSE supports people with energy-saving advice and energy-saving home improvements because increasing the energy efficiency of homes not only makes them warmer but also improves health and cuts fuel bills, it helps tackle the climate emergency too. The UK has some of the most energy inefficient housing in Europe. If we are to meet both our Net Zero and fuel poverty targets, then UK Government needs to urgently make more funding available for energy advice to support more people insulating their homes.”

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 food banks to continue to reach vulnerable clients. CSE also introduced a variety of new measures to support wellbeing at work for frontline staff.

CSE shares practical information to empower people to change the way they think and act about energy. The advice line supports people across the South West of England across a range of areas including;

  • Topping up prepayment meters
  • Gas, electricity and water bills
  • Switching supplier
  • Benefits advice
  • Debt advice
  • Housing
  • Food banks and food delivery
  • Prescriptions
  • Befriending services
  • Priority Services Register

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.

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