ENERGY PARTNERSHIP HELPS 2,200 TENANTS TACKLE ENERGY CRISIS IN DEVON AND CORNWALL

More than 2,200 households have received expert energy advice, reduced their fuel bills and made long term savings in energy usage thanks to a successful initiative launched by Citizens Advice South Hams.
The charity’s EmPower project was funded by the energy industry’s Voluntary Redress Scheme and was launched in 2020 operating across Devon and Cornwall.
Key successes achieved by the EmPower project include:
– £523k of financial gains for clients (£234 per household) with ongoing savings as people change their energy use and consumption.

– Over £150k of fuel vouchers providing emergency relief from prepayment meter self-disconnection were issued
– Over half the households were renting from a social landlord (55%) of which 1-in-7 assessments resulted in actions taken with landlords to carry out repairs or improvements to increase energy efficiency.

– Financial gains for nearly 200 clients, writing-off £93k of energy debts and £34k from resolutions to disputes with energy companies.

– 500 Citizens Advice volunteers and staff briefed and updated on energy policy.

Working with LiveWest, Teign Housing, Citizens Advice Cornwall and Citizens Advice Devon, the team also carried out workshops for frontline housing association staff, provided information for new tenants to help them use their heating systems efficiently and helped people referred from food banks, government departments, local authorities and community energy groups.
More than 400 households were helped with energy savings through home efficiency improvements and empowering them to make changes, with an estimated annual saving of about £90K
Citizens Advice South Hams Chief Executive, Janie Moor, said:
“When we launched this project we had no idea that Covid lockdown and the energy price crisis was just around the corner. Despite these huge challenges, our dedicated team were able to achieve their goals of improving the situation for people across the South West.
“Our specialist advisers had to cope with a rapidly changing situation, with big, complex changes in government support schemes and big increases in demand for energy advice.”
Janie added:
“Thanks to this important work, Citizens Advice South Hams is now recognised as a centre of expertise in energy advice across the South West region.”
Even before the 2022 energy crisis, it was estimated more than one-in-ten households in the South West were “fuel poor” – one of the highest levels of fuel poverty in England.

Social landlords know all too well that fuel poverty is one of the biggest issues impacting the life of their tenants and can affect their ability to retain their tenancy and maintain the standard of the property.

Over 20% of tenants helped reported their health had improved and/or that they had seen improvements in their capacity to manage. 46% of those helped earned less that £1,000 per month, with 65.3% of tenants living with a long-term health condition or disability.

Although energy prices seem to be stabilising at an average of around £2,000-a-year this is still double what it was at the beginning of the EmPower project.
Although EmPower has now been completed, members of the public will continue to benefit from energy advice, with fully-trained specialist advisers operating across Devon and Cornwall.

CASE STUDIES
• Kim lives with her partner and daughter. Her daughter has significant health issues. There are significant household debts and Katie was struggling to budget for essential costs, including energy and rent payments. EmPOWER was able to offer some initial relief with a fuel voucher, and identified high electricity usage; in particular showering and laundry due to the daughters incontinence. By understanding where the major energy usage was incurred, Kim committed to halving showering time for the family. She will also try to adopt some of the energy saving tips EmPOWER provided, and felt more confident that she could meet her rent and energy costs going forward, whilst also managing her debt repayments.

• Robert has been without gas since his supply was capped. He needed the supply to heat his home. However, it became apparent that there were outstanding unpaid standing charges on the gas meter. The supplier stated that it wasn’t possible to uncap the gas supply until the debt had been paid. EmPOWER argued that on the basis of the information that had been provided, it would have been reasonable to assume that he wasn’t being charged whilst the gas supply had been capped. After initially refusing to accept this, the energy company agreed to write off the standing charges. EmPOWER continued to liaise with all parties until Robert’s gas supply was reconnected and a smart meter installed. EmPOWER also supported Robert with a fuel voucher and information about Warm Home Discount.

• Arleen has two teenage sons. Due to poor health she is unable to work. Arleen has a debt on her electricity. EmPOWER supported with a successful application to the British Gas Energy Trust to clear the debt. She said, “I cried when I received the letter”. The bulk of her electricity usage was due to her sons have lengthy showers each day. She was shocked and committed to cutting consumption. Arleen also puts on 10 loads of washing a week due to incontinence issues. She has since managed to reduce the number of loads each week. In total these behavioural changes in energy use, could save about £400 a year, and help Arleen to keep energy charges at an affordable level.

• Yvonne has two young children. One of the children has significant health needs. She had water debts and struggling with energy bills. EmPOWER helped with fuel vouchers so she could focus on other financial issues, and reducing consumption, particularly by reducing the use of the electric shower and washing clothes at 30 degrees C. Through EmPOWER she was supported to apply for a Watersure social tariff, and to make a claim for disability benefits for her daughter. Overall, through a combination of reduced consumption and increased household income, Yvonne feels much more positive about being able to manage her household finances.

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I always find the people at the Citizens Advice more than helpful. They go out of their way to deal with distressed and confused people in a compassionate and sensitive way. Citizens Advice is a wonderful service – long may it last.

John – January 2024

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