Energy Best Deal annual impact evaluation

Evaluating the success of a national campaign to give customers the best deal in the energy market

Project duration: January 2009 to May 2021

Since 2008, Citizens Advice have run the Energy Best Deal (EBD) and Energy Best Deal Extra (EBDx) - campaigns which aim to support households to reduce their energy costs by switching to a new supplier and reducing their energy usage, as well as increase awareness and access to help from suppliers and the government for households struggling to pay their bills.

And each year from 2009 to 2021, CSE has undertaken annual independent evaluations of the programme and campaigns, with funding support from Ofgem.

There are a number of reasons why people don’t change supplier, including:

  • Not knowing where to go to check the tariff they are on.
  • Not being aware better deals are out there.
  • Reluctance to change through concern they may not be better off.
  • Worry that they may lose their fuel supply.

The Energy Best Deal programme offers a series of information sessions for consumers and frontline workers from a range of organisations supporting financial capability.

The sessions seek to inform domestic energy consumers about how they could reduce their energy costs by changing tariff or supplier. They also seek to raise awareness about the help that is available from both suppliers and government for those who are struggling to pay their energy bills, and about the help and advice that is available on benefits and tax credits, and for those in debt.

CSE’s annual evaluation considers the effectiveness and scope of the programmes in relation to switching energy supplier or tariff, uptake of energy efficiency measures and behavioural changes to save energy, as well as help with energy debts.

The evaluation has contributed to understanding of the outcomes achieved by consumers, the additional benefits of new types of support, as well as the effectiveness of training sessions for frontline workers to further support clients.

CSE has continued to evaluate the impact of the EBD programme for Citizens Advice Scotland after England and Wales stopped running the programme in 2017. Extracts of the results are below.

2020-21

The 2020 evaluation focused on the reach of the programme, its ability to engage with vulnerable clients and on the outcomes achieved for clients and frontline workers. The study used information from surveys completed by clients and frontline workers at group sessions and one-to-one appointments, and follow-up surveys sent to clients and frontline workers after the support. Phone interviews were conducted with a small number of EBD advisors and clients who attended a group session.

Nearly 200 group sessions reached 1400 clients, people predominantly concerned about their fuel bills and on a low income. A third of these clients reported having a disability and over half were in receipt of at least one state benefit. After the group session, a third of clients that completed a follow up survey (21) looked for a better energy deal, and a third switched energy supplier. 90% of these group session clients said that they’d taken action to reduce energy waste.

In 2020 the EBD programme gave individual support to 4000 clients, 25% of whom received in depth Tier 2 support, rather than a one off session. Over half of all clients individually supported reported having a disability and nearly three quarters were on a low income.

Frontline worker group sessions reached 750 voluntary or paid staff. Many of the clients these frontline workers helped experienced fuel poverty. Frontline workers reported that they had been able to provide new advice or more in depth advice as a result of the session. 70% had used what they’d learnt when working one to one with clients.

The 2021 evaluation concentrated on assessing the impact of the pandemic on clients’ energy issues and on clients’ ability to achieve expected EBD outcomes like switching energy supplier. It also explored the impact of the pandemic on programme delivery and advisors’ experiences of delivering energy advice.  Information was gathered in phone interviews with advisors and clients, as well as via individual and group surveys and follow up surveys with clients and frontline workers.

153 group sessions, nearly all delivered online, reached 1000 frontline workers and nearly 500 clients. Individual support was provided to more than 4000 clients, 18% of whom received extended Tier 2 support. Both group sessions and one to one support continued to successfully engage with clients reporting a disability and/or on a low income. The number of clients that switched supplier was half that found in the 2020 evaluation.

Advisors reported that clients had significant fuel debt and that metering issues were common. Meter repairs were not considered essential by suppliers unless the client was off supply. Clients experienced difficulties communicating with their energy supplier and reported that overall little flexibility or support was offered by suppliers during the pandemic, for example by offering additional discretionary credit to a prepayment meter.

Clients were happy with energy advice offered via phone, email or video conferencing. There were benefits in being able to converse from home with an advisor, for example savings in time and travel costs, convenience and greater accessibility for some people with disabilities or health complaints.

Advisors reported that phone and video conferencing were effective ways to deliver group sessions and one to one appointments. It enabled them to reach rural communities and organisations not previously contacted. Advisors felt that online communication was not appropriate for all clients, and that a mix of digital and face to face methods would be useful in future. The lack of home visits and face to face contact made the delivery of complex case work difficult. For example there were challenges reading meters, sharing paperwork and obtaining consent to speak on a client’s behalf with their energy supplier.


2018-19

This year’s study built on the 2017/18 evaluation, with additional focus on analysing new ‘Tier 2’ support, which involves home visits and longer term casework for vulnerable clients dealing with complaints, debts and grant applications.

The evaluation has contributed to understanding the outcomes achieved by consumers reached through the campaigns, the added benefit of Tier 2 support, as well as the effectiveness of training sessions delivered by CAS for frontline workers to further support clients.

Over 3,000 consumers and frontline workers participated in the evaluation in 2019, either through a self-completed questionnaire or through a follow-up text or telephone survey. However, sample sizes for follow-up surveys are small, and should be interpreted with caution.

Both, the EBD and EBDx campaigns, have reached a high proportion of consumers less likely to switch energy deal, including older people, people with disabilities and those on a low income. EBDx reached a comparatively higher percentage of consumers living in areas of high deprivation and living in fuel poverty, reflecting the successful targeting of more vulnerable consumers through intensive Tier 2 support.

Results show that the scheme appears to have been successful at helping consumers switch to better energy deals, with over half of EBD consumers and 46% of EBDx consumers indicating they have switched to a better energy deal. Large proportions of consumers who completed follow-up surveys further reported applying for the Warm Home Discount, as well as additional benefit or tax credits.

The programmes have also been successful in encouraging clients to take action to reduce their energy use, with over half reporting leaving their lights on less or taking other actions to reduce energy use.

CSE will further facilitate a workshop with CAS advisors to explore ‘most significant change’ stories from a sample of clients who received Tier 2 support. The workshop will focus on selecting a set of illustrative case studies showing the changes valued and achieved by clients as a result of the in-depth support.

The EBD sessions also proved successful for training frontline workers. Of the 262 frontline workers who completed the surveys, nearly all indicated that the session increased their awareness of energy issues, and 89% reported improved confidence in advising on energy issues. Significant proportions of consumers attending one-to-one appointments were referred by a frontline worker, suggesting that EBD sessions were valuable for prompting frontline workers to identify clients in fuel poverty and refer them on to support.


Between 2008 and 2017 CSE evaluated the EBD programme for Citizens Advice (England, Scotland and Wales). Extracts of the results are below.

2015-17

In 2015 - 2017 a ‘family of energy programmes’ were run, which included  the Energy Best Deal Extra (EBDx) campaign offering one-to-one advice to consumers, as well as the Prepayment Meter Project and Energy Efficiency Wales Project (EEW) in 2015-2016. These focused specifically on working with housing associations to provide advice to consumers with prepayment meters, and energy efficiency measures.

The evaluation involved a mixed methods approach comprising of quantitative analysis using data from self-completed questionnaires, and qualitative telephone interviews with a random sample of consumers and frontline workers.

The evaluation considered the effectiveness and scope of the programmes in relation to switching energy supplier or tariff, uptake of energy efficiency measures and behavioural changes to save energy, as well as help with energy debts.

Between May 2016 and November 2017, CSE produced four evaluation reports of the different elements of the various energy programmes. The study found that from 2015 - 2016 consumers did not switch following advice due to attitudinal and understanding barriers.

The main benefits following EBD sessions (particularly EBDx sessions), were as follows:

  • The sessions proved successful in helping consumers with energy related debt and money issues, as well as issues with suppliers. 
  • Of the 19 consumers interviewed from the Prepayment meter Project, 79% found the session useful, with advice on switching and dealing with suppliers being most helpful, followed by information on how Prepayment meters work and the pros and cons of this method of payment. 
  • There is further strong evidence that following the session, consumers had a better understanding of emergency and friendly credit as well as using switching sites. 
  • The EBDxEEW project was found to have a good fit with the Warm Homes Nest Programme, enabling consumers to be referred to this service. The support enabled them to access highly valued benefits including reduced energy bills, improved warmth and comfort in the home and the ability to stay healthy during the winter. 
  • The project appeared to have a notable impact on debt and money issues, helping consumers find out about and apply for benefits, tax credits and other financial support such as the Warm Home Discount. 

The final report was issued in November 2017, covering EBD group and one-to-one sessions run between 2016- 2017.

The findings depicted a comparatively higher percentage of consumers who looked for a better energy deal, and proved the campaign was successful in encouraging consumers to take action to save energy at home, with 40% of EBD consumers and 31% of EBDx consumers taking action following the advice session. EBDx appointments were also particularly successful in boosting the uptake of benefits and entitlements.


2011-12

CSE’s evaluation of the 2011/12 Energy Best Deal programme is available to download here.


2010-11

Almost 2,000 consumers and frontline workers participated in the evaluation in 2010, either through a completed questionnaire or through a follow-up telephone conversation.

The results proved the scheme had been very successful, with 82% (2010 result) of consumers indicating their intention to take action on their energy bills following their session. In follow-up interviews around two months after the session, a third of people had taken some kind of action to get a better deal. Internet access was important, with those with internet access much more likely to have looked into getting a better deal than those without.

Of the consumers who did look into changing, the results found that the majority said they had found it easy or fairly easy to work out if they would save money by switching.

The sessions also proved to have a successful impact on frontline advice workers. Almost all (97% in 2010) felt better informed after the sessions. Follow-up interviews showed more advice being given on the Energy Best Deal topics since the sessions, with a median of 15 clients being given information from Energy Best Deal per frontline advice worker in the months since the session.

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