Heat Heroes for Families was a Changeworks project to provide practical support to over 350 Edinburgh families with children under age 16, living in or at risk of fuel poverty. Developed and delivered by Changeworks in partnership with the Community Help and Advice Initiative (CHAI), who provided benefits and income maximisation support, the project ran from April 2016 to March 2017 and was funded by the ScottishPower Energy People Trust.
Changeworks provided a package of support to tackle the causes of fuel poverty1, helping families access energy efficiency measures and welfare benefits to help ensure they were affordably warm in their homes. This was done by training a team of ten volunteers to deliver basic energy efficiency advice and refer those families in need of additional in-depth support to a Changeworks Affordable Warmth Advisor and CHAI Income Maximisation Advisor.
Families were identified by volunteers delivering talks at community events, advice surgeries for parent support groups, parent and toddler groups and at library ‘Bookbug’ sessions for families with young children. Changeworks’ partnership with CHAI was key to this process, with a number of households being cross-referred for both sets of advice.
Engaging with families proved tricky over the summer months as heating isn’t such a priority when the weather is warm. Post-Christmas, as the cold weather continued and winter fuel bills started coming in, there was a significant increase in referrals to the project.
Families were supported by the project in a number of ways depending what was relevant for their circumstances. This could include being shown how to use their heating system more efficiently, support to find out if they could benefit from a cheaper tariff or supplier, help in applying for the £140 Warm Home Discount and information on accessing grants and support from the Scottish Government and energy suppliers. A number of families were also supported to clear outstanding balances on gas and electricity accounts with their supplier. CHAI assisted families to access all income they were entitled to, such as welfare benefits and tax credits.
Reducing heating bills and saving money
One householder, Ms T, was a single parent with a young daughter, both of whom receive disability benefits. Changeworks’ advisor supported Ms T to update her gas and electricity account leading to a reduction in her monthly payments from £157 to £125, a saving of £32 per month and £384 across the year. The advisor also helped her apply for the £140 Warm Home Discount which she was eligible for and submitted a successful application on her behalf to clear her outstanding gas and electricity bills, a total of £861. This brought Ms T’s savings from energy advice to £1,385. Ms T also received support from CHAI to help get her other finances in order, including setting up payment arrangements for multiple debts she was left with following her husband’s death. She has been making good progress towards paying these off. Ms T commented, “Thanks so much for sticking with me!”
Some other families supported by Heat Heroes for Families also commented on how the service helped them:
“The service is great and it’s great that you do home visits. I was able to switch to a different tariff with my power company – [the advisor] found out about a tariff that I wasn’t aware of.”
“I now have more information, and I know I’m not alone. I also know who to contact now if I have difficulties.”
Benefits of partnership working
Over the course of the year the project supported 362 vulnerable families to reduce their heating and electricity bills, make the most of household budgets and keep their homes affordably warm. Through energy advice and fuel billing (mainly gas and electricity, but can also include coal, oil and wood) support, Heat Heroes for Families’ clients made savings of £27,435 with estimated carbon savings of 25,791kgC. Over 200 people received income maximisation advice from CHAI with those households gaining a massive £318,415.80 through this support. By working in partnership, Changeworks and CHAI were able to maximise the support given to householders.
1. The Scottish Government says: “A person is living in fuel poverty if, to heat their home to a satisfactory standard, they need to spend more than 10 per cent of their household income on fuel.”