The Ebico Trust funded project Money Management project, administered by Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Eastbourne is providing a holistic approach to locals in fuel poverty. We recently visited the project and spoke to some of their clients who testified how the CAB helped them to manage their energy use and fuel bills.
Most fuel poor residents are identified through a drop in service. The meetings usually start with a personal budgeting exercise through which the adviser, Sarah, can identify areas where the client could make savings. Many clients can reduce a burden of energy bills on their already tight budgets simply by switching their energy supplier and by implementing some easy behavioural changes in their homes. These include turning the thermostat down (if set too high), reducing the use of their tumble dryer and adjusting their emersion heater.
From their experience, CAB Eastbourne find that many people see their energy bills as a low priority. This tends to be because many energy suppliers are slow to send warning letters for unpaid bills, whilst many other organisations tend to react more swiftly. For example, householders that miss council tax payments get an immediate warning letter from their council. As people prioritise these warning letters, energy bills are lower on their priority list. This often means that they don’t pay for several months and accumulate a large fuel debt.
During the project visit, we had an opportunity to speak to three clients that Sarah had helped Ms, Bouchra, Donna and Jung.
Ms Bouchra is on an economy 7 tariff and her hot water tank seemed to be constantly on. She was unable to regulate the temperature and Sarah organised, through an independent installer funded by the local council, for the tank to be replaced. In the meantime, Ms Bouchra had a problem with her new supplier, who failed to collect her direct debit payments and had then sent bailiffs for unpaid bills. Sarah helped her to resolve this with her supplier. As a result, Bouchra received an apology, £50 compensation from the supplier and has now switched to another supplier. She also received guidance how to switch again once her fixed term contract ends.
Due to low household income, Donna spends a large proportion of her budget on energy bills. However, she found it confusing to and difficult to deal with her energy supplier. After helping her with budget, Sarah also, step-by-step, helped Donna to switch her energy supplier. She also supported her through the transition period. Donna now feels that she is in control of her energy bills and her budget is under less pressure. She is also now confident to switch her energy supplier or tariff in the future.
Finally, Jung is an elderly lady who found dealing with all her utilities very confusing. She had also been a victim of a bogus landline provider who tricked her into providing her bank details over the phone. She finally, contacted CAB Eastbourne for help. Sarah, helped Jung to resolve the telephone provider issue but also helped her to switch her energy provider. Jung now benefits from lower energy bills, which were a considerable burden to her limited income.