Bill Busters – Busting Energy Bills & Debts in Blackburn

On Wednesday 9th April we visited the Ebico Trust funded Blackburn with Darwen – Bill Busters project, administered by the Healthy Living charity in Blackburn. Bill Busters is the first and, currently, the only project of its kind in Blackburn, providing home visits for vulnerable people in fuel poverty. Its staff have created a good network with other charities and the local authority, streamlining the help that their clients are receiving. Bill
Busters is providing people with practical and sustainable help.

We started our day by chatting with Shelagh, who is the Finance and Administration Manager, and Dilwara who is a trained energy advisor. Since April 2013, Dilwara has made 252 home visits providing help to those who are in fuel poverty. Apart help with fuel poverty, she has also provided personal budgeting support, healthy living advice and also given some families a slow cooker and a cooking book (you can download the cooking book here).
Cooking with a slow cooker uses much less energy than conventional cooking methods and is also healthier since it also preserves the vitamins in vegetables. So the families provided with a slow cooker were not only saving money but were eating healthier meals as well.

Following our chat we set off with Dilwara to visit two clients Mrs S and Miss M.

Mrs S. is not allowed to work due to a severe spinal injury. Last year she was going through a very hard time due to other health complications and problems. This resulted in her falling behind with the energy bill payments. Eventually she ran up a debt of over £400. Her energy supplier fitted her property with a prepayment meter to recover the debt. Mrs. S initially contacted Citizens Advice Bureau in Blackburn for help. The CAB office got in
touch with the Bill Busters project and referred her to them. Mrs. S said:

“I didn’t expect a call for at least couple of weeks, but Dilwara phoned me the next day and arranged the home visit immediately”.

Dilwara, was on the case straight away, she has spoken to Mrs S’ energy supplier and arranged manageable payments. In the meantime, she successfully applied for debt relief grant such that Mr S’ debt has been wiped out and she is now in control of her energy bill. As she said:

“I had 1000 problems, no money coming in, and Dilwara took at least one problem away from me.”

After visiting Mrs. S we went to visit Miss M, who was also referred to Bill Busters by Citizens Advice Bureau in Blackburn. Miss M lives with her two children and she had a combined fuel debt of £1000 a few years ago. Her father helped her to settle this debt and she then asked her energy supplier to replace her credit meter with pre-payment meter so she is more in control of her energy.

It took her energy supplier over a year to install the prepayment meter and this was done only after Miss M run another £1000 of energy debt. She was then asked to pay £250 for the meter installation and to make £20 weekly debt repayment through her prepayment meter, which she could not afford. Dilwara, negotiated with the supplier in question to wave the £250 fee for the meter replacement, as they had taken over a year to install it.
She also negotiated a reduction in the debt repayment to a weekly payment of £7.50 – which is more manageable for Miss M.  Finally, she applied for the debt relief grant, which is currently being considered.

Dilwara, provided Miss M. with the energy efficiency and budgeting advice so she is now more in control of her energy use and budget.

Having helped 252 fuel poor households in Blackburn and Darwen, the Bill Busters project is very successful.  Although fuel poverty is a major national problem, for Mrs S and Miss M a solution has been on hand in the form of Dilwara, a trained, experienced and proactive energy advisor from the Bill Busters project.  They’ve been provided with extra security and a warmer home during a challenging period in their lives. The Bill Busters team works hard in their local community with bags of energy and passion – helping whoever they can in fuel poverty. We wish them the best and we’re sure they’ll keep up the good work.

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