Warmer Improved Somerset Homes (WISH)
Fuel poverty help and advice for vulnerable Somerset residents
Project duration: August 2013 to July 2017
WISH is a long-standing CSE fuel poverty programme helping older people in Somerset. With three years' of funding from the Big Lottery's Reaching Communities programme, we’re working in partnership with the Community Council for Somerset and Somerset Care & Repair, as well as a range of local agencies and organisations.
The first ever 'WISH' (Warmer Improved Somerset Homes) ran from 2006-09 in Sedgemoor and West Somerset as a partnership between CSE and the Somerset Coast Home Improvement Agency. The second phase, from 2010-2013, helped more than 11,500 householders throughout the county.
For this phase of WISH, we've expanded the reach of the programme to include all Somerset residents regardless of age or housing type. We particularly want to offer help to households with young children, since children and the elderly are most at risk of illness as a result of living in a cold home.
Paying the bills and staying warm and healthy at home is a huge issue for many Somerset residents. In rural areas, many houses have solid walls that are hard to insulate, such as old stone buildings. A lot of these homes are off the gas grid, meaning they have to be heated with more expensive oil or electricity – fuel bills are going up particularly fast for these households. In Somerset there is a high proportion of older people, who suffer the effects of living in cold or damp homes, and we have also found a low level of understanding about energy use and costs among low-income households.
This latest phase of WISH aims to tackle all these issues. We want people in fuel poverty or fuel debt to have a better quality of life as a result of improved access to good quality energy advice and energy efficiency improvements. And we want to see the community working together to tackle cold homes.
"Without WISH we would not have had our heating done. WISH is a very, very useful [service] and should be more widely known." (Interviewee on BBC Radio Somerset, 3 March 2010). Read the stories of those helped by the WISH programme.
Aims for the third phase
Over the next three years, we aim to maintain the fuel poverty advice service across Somerset, identifying and supporting householders in rural areas who live in cold, damp homes or who struggle to pay their energy bills.
We will be offering these people advice on how to manage their energy use and reduce their fuel bills, as well as letting them know about any available grants for insulation or heating system improvements.
The project will also provide training to health and social care professionals, equipping them to understand the energy-related needs of all households, identify clients who are in fuel poverty, and refer them to the fuel poverty advice service. By doing this, we aim to provide advice and support to 2,000 households.
CSE’s long history of providing home energy advice has taught us that people are more likely to take action if they receive advice which is:
- Specific and relevant to their own particular circumstances
- Received in a face-to-face setting (especially during a home visit)
- Delivered from a known and trusted source
- Relatively quick and easy to act upon, with ongoing support provided
With this in mind, we have two dedicated WISH caseworkers to be on hand in Somerset, based at our local partner organisations. They’ll provide an in-depth advice service that integrates all aspects of fuel poverty (housing, energy efficiency, benefits and dealing with fuel debt), largely face-to-face, through home visits, case work, client follow-up, and events. The caseworkers will also have a team of trained, enthusiastic volunteers to help them identify struggling householders in Somerset.
CSE’s in-house energy advisors will be on hand to provide support for the caseworkers and volunteers, along with phone-based advice, project management, and training for partner organisations.
In 2014 we...
- provided one-to-one support for 448 households
- trained 183 front line workers at 20 training events, raising awareness of the project, the effects of fuel poverty and explaining how they can facilitate support for their service users
- had face-to-face contact with 1359 people at 63 different outreach events
- recruited a total of 18 volunteers to support the project
- built relationships with a range of organisations that varied both in the type of service users they support and the geographical spread. This included organisations supporting families, disabled people, older people, and those in financial hardship across the five Somerset districts
Read a summary of WISH’s achievements during 2010-13 in our magazine, Energize. [This phase was funded by the Nationwide Foundation, with additional funding from LARC and from the Hastoe Foundation.]
Get in touch
If you know any Somerset residents who would benefit from a short talk with a friendly advisor, or a longer home visit to talk about any of these issues, please contact CSE's Home Energy Team (freephone number) or email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My boiler was obslete really”
One person who was helped by WISH was Mrs Crane of Minehead (see video below) who described her house as an “ice box”. She was able to get an award for a new boiler and upgraded heating controls to make her home much more comfortable and warm. With her new, efficient A-rated boiler she can start to save money on her fuel bills, and we also helped her apply for the benefits she was entitled to.
“You can’t believe how much it’s changed my life”
Like many people, retirement had been made difficult for this Somerset resident because of a number of long-term health problems. He often found it difficult to get out and about, and had become a virtual prisoner in his own home. He’d also struggled financially with high fuel bills which caused him a lot of worry.
Since finding out about a local advice project called WISH (Warmer Improved Somerset Homes), his life has seen significant improvements.
“You can’t believe how much it’s changed my life,” he said. “I used to dread my heating bills coming in. I’d go into the bedroom and just heat that one small room to cut down the costs. But I don’t need to worry anymore. The benefits have made a hell of a difference.”
But the extra financial help he now receives didn’t come easily.
“I’d previously tried to get help through Age Concern, Citizen’s Advice and Somerset County Council,” he explained. “A couple of people from these organisations helped me fill out the application forms to see if I was entitled to extra help, but both times I was unsuccessful."
He then picked up a WISH leaflet in his local doctor’s surgery – “I called the advice line and explained my situation, and a little while later Pauline (a CSE fuel poverty advisor) called me back”.
Pauline was convinced he should be receiving extra support. “She couldn’t understand why I’d been turned down previously. So we sat down and started filling out the forms again to make another application. After that Pauline put me on to Jan (a caseworker from Somerset Care and Repair – above) and she’s been great.”
Pauline and Jan supported their client in applying for extra benefits and were finally successful, though not before taking his case to an appeal.
“We had to go up to Bristol for the day. Jan came down and picked me up and we drove in together, and I was quite nervous,” he recalled.
“There was a doctor on the panel, and he was very good... he could see what I was going through. In the end I won and the appeals panel couldn’t understand why I had been turned down previously, either."
The appeal in March 2012 was the end of a long process, but one which finally saw him the backdated benefits; he is effusive about the support WISH gave him.
“Oh, yes, I’ve recommended WISH to lots of people – they were A1,” he said. “All my friends and neighbours know that I won the case – I told them. So I’m happy for other people to know about the help I’ve had.
“I think it’s a great help to have someone with you, supporting you. You feel a lot stronger. I had Jan beside me all the way, and I knew she would put me right. And it’s not just help with things like filling out the forms, it’s the all-round support that’s been so useful.”