Changeworks Affordable Warmth Advisors provide specialist help and support to householders in or at risk of fuel poverty, in the South East of Scotland and the Highlands. They do this through referrals from service providers, eg local housing officers and support workers, and give one-to-one advice to clients either at home visits or energy advice surgeries in local advice providers offices. Here we catch up with advisor Simon Barnes to find out what happens in a typical day…
8am I’m usually at my desk. I brew up a big pot of coffee to share with my colleagues. I double check the day’s appointments and plan in time for casework.
My first appointment is with Edinburgh resident Anna, who is in her first tenancy and struggling with her gas and electricity bills. She is afraid to use her heating for fear of running up even bigger bills. She was referred to the Changeworks’ Affordable Warmth team by her housing association. I call Anna and she tells me more about her situation. We agree that a home visit would be helpful. Luckily (and rarely!), we both have a free slot this morning.
I ask one of my team mates to be my “buddy”. This is one of our lone worker safety precautions. Every advisor must have a buddy who knows when the home visit starts, and gets a check-in call when the visit is complete. Buddy secured, off I go.
I grab my Advice Toolkit which consists of Satnav, security enabled ID badge, smart phone, damp meter, smart monitor, radiator panels, thermometer cards, a stash of our comprehensive energy advice packs – a guide to gas and electricity for clients – and information about various heating types, tariffs, suppliers, grants and additional sources of support. I then head off to meet Anna in one of our electric vehicles. (I can also use our folding bicycle for home visits when it’s available.)
9:30am I arrive at Anna’s home and cover a few basic formalities before we get started. This includes our Data Protection statement, service statement, complaints procedure and mandate forms for dealing with suppliers on her behalf. I then collect other details which will help me know what grants or schemes she might be eligible for.
Anna doesn’t know which gas and electricity suppliers are supplying the property, so I call MPAS (Meter Point Administration Service) to find out. I then call the supplier and am on hold for 15 minutes before I get put through to the correct department. I use this time to take meter readings and meter numbers. I also see that there is some debt on the gas meter from the previous tenant. I discuss different ways in which Anna can pay her electricity and gas bills. She decides to keep the pre-payment meters.
10am I’m finally through to the supplier. As a security measure, I pass the phone over to Anna for data protection verification, and we set up a new gas and electricity account.
The supplier explains that Anna will be put on the standard tariff as she has pre-payments meters. I raise the issue of existing debt from the previous tenant, and they agree to send out a card to wipe the debt from the meter.
I give Anna our advice pack, and in particular point out two specific fact sheets which explain how to use the prepayment meters. I also show her how to take a meter reading.
Anna thought she was using a lot of electricity. She had a system boiler which stored hot water, yet she had her electric immersion switch on constantly. I explain how the water can be heated by gas or electricity, but that it costs three times as much to heat water using electricity. So she should only use the immersion switch if the gas boiler is not working. I give her a demonstration on how to use the central heating and hot water timer. I then get her to set it herself until I’m sure she has understood how to work it.
As Anna is in receipt of a qualifying benefit, I make her aware of the £140 Warm Home Discount Scheme through her supplier. I explain I’ll help her to apply for this once she receives her welcome pack and account number from her supplier. I then leave Anna with our energy advice pack and my contact details.
10:30am I check in with my buddy back in the office before setting off to my next appointment, Nick, who heard about our service from a friend. His gas has been capped and he can’t afford to put it back on. His appointment was booked in a few days earlier.
11am I get to the house on time, but there’s nobody there. Not an uncommon occurrence unfortunately. I head back to office and will call Nick later to rearrange.
11:30am Back at the office and time for a quick brew. My colleagues have kindly made a fresh pot of coffee, so I’m ready to tackle the admin and casework side of the advice provision. This entails updating our database, calling suppliers to advocate on behalf of clients (eg applying for grants to wipe off debt, applying to trusts for furniture, carpets, draught-proofing), negotiating cheaper repayment plans, correcting errors, getting meters uncapped, arranging for better payment plans, Fuel Direct or a wide range of other ways to help.
2pm After a 45 minute marathon phone call with an electricity supplier there is a breakthrough! A billing error is resolved, saving the client £1,289 in incorrect charges.
2:30pm After a quick lunch, I arrange more appointments with clients for the rest of the week. I manage to catch up with Nick, who apologises profusely, and rebook the home visit for the next day.
I spend the rest of the day catching up on emails, booking and preparing materials for a heating and electricity workshop for tenants at a housing association taking place later in the week.
5pm Home time. I catch the news on the radio, another story about fuel poverty and high gas and electricity prices…Tell me about it!
Simon Barnes is Changeworks’ Affordable Warmth Advisor