Tackling fuel poverty – a partnership approach

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 16

Christine Tate, head of corporate social responsibility at British Gas, writes for PSE.

With winter firmly upon us, many public sector housing and healthcare professionals may be thinking how to help people stay warm and dry in their homes. 

Fortunately, those working in local government are used to working in partnership with charities, voluntary groups and energy companies to protect the safety and good health of vulnerable people within their communities. 

The Community Action Partnership 

One example of this type of collaborative approach in action can be seen in the Community Action Partnership (CAP). 

This scheme, led by the charity National Energy Action (NEA) with British Gas, aims to tackle fuel poverty by bringing together regional charities and community support groups to work with local authorities to create bespoke local approaches to help residents, focusing on reaching those most in need. 

The programme, running from 2014-16, delivers projects, training sessions and community initiatives that support councils in eight key UK locations: Enfield, Walsall, Barking and Dagenham, Northampton, Cardiff, Liverpool, Greater Manchester and the north east. To date, CAP has worked with more than 5,600 people across the country. 

Help available to local authorities   

One of the ways it supports local authorities in particular is by providing training programmes specifically tailored for local government professionals, including local authority landlords, environmental health officers, advice workers and social housing professionals. 

By helping these professionals to identify people struggling to maintain a warm home, for example, or how to provide advice about condensation and dampness or find out more about the grants available. The scheme aims to spread valuable knowledge with frontline staff, helping them make the biggest positive impact on the lives of the people they come into contact with. 

Online training tools are also provided so that people can learn more outside of the formal training. The e-training covers the same topics as the practical sessions, but also offers tailored advice relevant to the organisation or individual using it. 

Teams from CAP also work with local authorities and key decision-makers at conferences and events to find a targeted and coordinated approach to addressing fuel poverty, and to provide support and insight into the effectiveness of energy efficiency. 

For example, CAP recently supported Liverpool City Council’s annual Winter Survival event, attended by about 800 people. NEA and British Gas staff were on-hand to provide help and advice on a wide range of energy-related matters. 

Financial support for local residents 

As well as offering advice on the efficient use of energy, CAP also helps frontline advice workers from local government and the health service to find out more about the financial support available to people living in their communities.  

People struggling with bills can get help in clearing their debts through grants and financial advice given by organisations such as independent charity, the British Gas Energy Trust, regardless of whether or not that person is a British Gas customer. 

Other initiatives, such as the Energy Company Obligation scheme, are designed to reduce Britain’s energy consumption and support people living in fuel poverty by providing free loft or cavity wall insulation. 

Making an impact 

Each person trained through CAP schemes has been challenged to pass on the knowledge they have received – we estimate that each person goes on to reach 15 people per month. 

Where it is not supporting other professionals, CAP also engages residents directly by attending community events such as winter fairs, lunch clubs and older people’s forums, where it can help people learn about energy efficiency through interactive games such as ‘energy efficiency bingo’. 

In today’s society, no one organisation has either all the answers, or the resources, to tackle the elements of fuel poverty single-handedly. 

By working together, however, everyone working in this area can make a real impact. We know, from our experience, that the advice people share really does change individuals’ lives for the better and we hope that schemes like CAP will play a key part in alleviating fuel poverty for good.


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