Increased energy bills driving poverty

By Richard Harding   |   Kingsbridge and Ivybridge reporter   |
Sunday 12th December 2021 7:00 am
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Devon charity National Energy Action, which is behind the National Fuel Poverty Awareness Day campaign, recently reported that inflation rose in October to its highest level in a decade, with the Office for National Statistics identifying increased household energy bills as a key driver to the rise in cost of living. If further price rises happen as predicted, the cost of energy bills could have doubled for some people in just one year by April 2022.

A 2020 report from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy shows that everywhere in Devon has a minimum fuel poverty level of 8.1% of the population, with some areas in the county having as many as 12.1%-14% of households in fuel poverty. A recent study found that there is often a link between isolated rural communities and fuel poverty, due to higher risk of power cuts, poorer access to national infrastructures and low standards of insulation. In Devon the situation is exacerbated by the higher proportion of off-grid properties and older, detached properties in rural areas.

With uncertainty over the Omicron variant, colder temperatures, the end of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and the end of furlough there will be many people in the South Hams worried about how to keep their homes warm over the coming months. As well as debt and affordability factors, there are also many other consequences of a poorly heated home including physical and mental health issues, which add to the pressures on health services at a time when they are already under huge strain.

To help address these challenges, Devon Communities Together is organising a series of workshops across Devon to support people to save energy and reduce their fuel bills this winter, as part of the national Big Energy Saving Network initiative from Citizens Advice. These workshops cover practical advice for people who are unsure of how best to tackle their rising fuel bills, with tips on things like the priority services register, home energy saving, the warm homes discount and what happens when a supplier goes out of business.

Martin Rich, Devon Communities Together’s Community Projects Adviser and Energy Champion, explains how people can book a workshop for their community: “We’d encourage anybody who would like to help people who are struggling in their area to get in touch. I can come along to coffee mornings or other pre-organised events, or I can work with you to arrange a standalone workshop. There will be people in your community who will really benefit from some extra information on how to manage their energy and we’re here to help. The sessions I’ve done so far have been really useful for people and we’ve even had some really positive discussions about greener energy sources, as well as reducing bills. You can call or email me direct on 07984 001542 or [email protected] to book a workshop between now and March 2022.”

In addition to its community workshops, Devon Communities Together is launching a new project, funded by Western Power Distribution, called REACH, will support people in the communities at greatest risk of fuel poverty as well as those people who may not find it easy to access digital support, whether that’s through a lack of skills or equipment. The team will be offering home visits, video calls and telephone support to directly help individuals with a whole range of issues around their fuel bills, including practical help with dealing with energy suppliers, accessing the financial assistance available, help with understanding the terminology around domestic energy, looking at alternative energy sources and more.

“We understand the huge problems people can face in keeping their homes heated – particularly in rural communities – and want to help keep as many people warm this winter as we can,” added Martin. “As well as providing personalised help with energy bills, we will also be able to support people with related issues, such as housing and health challenges, by working with partner organisations to ensure that people receive the help they need. If you would like some one-to-one support or would like to find out more about REACH, please do get in touch on 07984 001542 or [email protected].

We will also be providing training to other front-line workers as part of the REACH project. Both the training and the home visits will help to educate and build confidence in individuals to take better control of their situation in future, know where to go for advice, know their rights and be better able to support others.”

With a relatively high proportion of homes in Devon being ‘off-grid’ many people are forced to rely on heating oil to keep their homes warm. Devon Oil Collective is an initiative from Devon Communities Together that helps members save money on their oil orders by taking advantage of bulk buying discounts, without the hassle of having to shop around. Membership of Devon Oil Collective is free and Devon Communities Together receives 1p per litre of oil ordered through the scheme which helps to fund its work in communities throughout Devon. For more information and to join, visit www.devoncommunities.org.uk/services/devon-oil-collective, or call 01392 248919.

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