Jun 27, 2017 Last Updated 3:06 PM, Jun 22, 2017

An innovative scheme to help tackle fuel poverty

Published in Talking Point
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Steve Crabb, Director of Consumer Vulnerability at British Gas, looks at the legacy of the Community Action Partnership (CAP), an innovative scheme to help tackle fuel poverty, and what it means for public sector professionals working in housing.

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What is CAP?

CAP launched in 2014 as the first nationwide grassroots initiative to support people struggling to heat their homes. It provided specialist training to front line public sector workers, enabling them to help people save energy and keep their homes warm.

The two-year project, led by British Gas and National Energy Action (NEA), centred on eight locations across England and Wales, providing support where it was most needed. It involved 29 local authorities and many other organisations such as NHS trusts and fire and rescue services.

Now, after 24 months of working with organisations and communities to educate residents about energy efficiency, the initiative has come to a close. Yet its legacy will have a lasting impact thanks to the creation of sustainable, effective partnerships with organisations and households across the country.

Working with the public sector

A key focus for CAP was to develop action plans that aligned with its local authority partners’ sustainability programmes, working to bring together several agencies to raise the profile of fuel poverty.

In Merseyside, CAP supported the Merseyside Fuel Poverty Conference which saw the Lord Mayor sign a commitment, along with other MPs, to support local housing authorities and other organisations whose goal it is to tackle fuel poverty.

In Enfield, a borough-wide action plan; ‘Warmer Homes: A Fuel Poverty Strategy for Enfield’, brought together a wide range of agencies to increase engagement across organisations and residents. Organisations are now looking at improving housing stock, providing energy advice and raising awareness of fuel poverty with households. By supporting such schemes, we’re placing fuel poverty firmly on the agenda of councils and other public sector organisations, and supporting them in tackling it.

Supporting our communities

As well as working with public sector organisations, CAP supported local authorities and housing associations by training front line staff to become ‘Community Energy Agents’. Agents were trained to educate fellow colleagues and peers, with the aim that learnings would be passed on to residents.

The training helped front line workers to identify when households might be facing fuel poverty, and armed them with simple, practical advice that they can then share with the people they visit each day.

Leading the discussion

During the scheme, it became clear that for CAP to have a lasting impression on communities, it was vital that attitudes towards fuel poverty needed to change. For residents affected by fuel poverty, talking about it could be difficult due to the sensitive nature of the subject, but by building trust and engaging residents face-to-face at community advice sessions we were able to have honest and respectful conversations on the topic.

The results

Over the course of its two-year lifespan, the CAP initiative trained more than 1600 front line staff, including a large proportion of public sector workers responsible for supporting the community.

Each trainee is expected to go on to share their knowledge with an average of 15 new households per month. This means the scheme reached an estimated one million people, a figure set to rise to more than three million people by 2020.

Through the training, there has also been a significant upskilling of housing professionals. Our post-programme impact assessment found that awareness of fuel poverty, including its causes and consequences, had increased from 46% to 85%. Similarly, those who said they were able to identify vulnerable households at risk of fuel poverty had risen from 52% to 86%.

The scheme has already had an impact on households too, with 80% of residents helped by CAP believing they would be able to use the information they’ve learnt to save energy and keep warm in the future.

What next?

To ensure a positive legacy for CAP, British Gas and the NEA have launched a new online hub. This offers advice and free downloadable starter kits to help organisations across the country develop and deliver their own community activities to help combat fuel poverty.

Many public sector professionals are on the front line and in the best place to provide support to vulnerable households – making a huge and lasting difference in addressing fuel poverty. By building on the achievements CAP has already seen, we have the potential to materially improve the lives of thousands of people.

Contact

www.nea.org.uk

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