Affordable Energy Access
This project funded by Comic Relief aimed to support people in Bristol, Weston-super-Mare and Bath in financial hardship or struggling to keep their home warm or to pay their bills. In particular it targeted homes with prepayment meters.
“Prepayment meter customers often pay the highest tariffs but have the lowest incomes and standards of housing,” said, Project Manager, Kate Thomas. “By focusing on prepayment meters, we hoped to reach people who don’t always see themselves as in need of energy efficiency advice or as being vulnerable, such as low-income families and single people of working age who are rarely offered one-to-one support.”
What’s the problem with prepayment meters?
Prepayment meters require people to pay for their gas and electricity upfront and are usually more expensive than paying by monthly direct debit. it also means regular trips to a top-up point – a struggle for those with poor mobility – and risky for those with health conditions who rely on a constant electricity supply, as prepayment meters cut supply in cases on non-payment.
“In some cases prepayment meters are an appropriate option,” said Kate. “For example for people who prefer smaller, more frequent payments, or are repaying debt with regular deductions from their meter.
“But generally, more people will benefit from a move from prepayment meters to monthly payments. The process can be daunting, but the emphasis in Universal Credit payments is on monthly income so provides making a move to a regular billing system easier, assuming the householders can budget adequately and use a bank account. This project will help us support people to make the move.”
You can read more about the disproportionate charges on people with prepayment meters in our True Cost of the Rising Energy Price Cap briefing.
The grant covered a variety of outreach activities such as dedicated community events, workshops and one-to-one advice for those that need on-going support via telephone or home visits. These were carried out by our Home Energy Team, which has the experience and reach to help prepayment meter customers, along with good working relationships with the financial support organisations that can provide further debt advice.
Who will benefit from the Affordable Energy Access project?
The 3 year programme aimed to reach 1,500 people in financial hardship, particularly those on prepayment meters, helping them to increase their income, reduce their bills and provide money management skills so they are better able to avoid debt. To further the project’s scope, we provided training and toolkits for 50 frontline workers to provide financial capability advice, to help them assess whether prepayment meters are appropriate for their clients.
Beneficiaries were able to access more affordable energy, if necessary by moving supplier. They gained knowledge of how to manage their energy use, for example though a better understanding of how to use their heating controls, making their homes cheaper to heat.
The project also offered advice on budgeting and the soon-to-be-introduced Universal Credit benefit system. For those that don’t have suitable banking facilities, assistance opening new accounts allowed them access credit meters and therefore to cheaper tariffs.
As explected much of the target group was not claiming benefits they’re entitled to, and our advisors sought to maximise people’s income by raising the awareness of the Warm Home Discount, one-off grant offers and benefits such as Personal Independence Payments and Pension Credit.
To help those in fuel or water debt, advisors contacted suppliers on behalf of clients to get the debt written off, or put plans in place to repay the debt at an affordable rate. These clients were shown how to monitor, pay and check the accuracy of utility bills, and, where appropriate, referred for specialist debt advice.
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