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A View: British Gas Energy Trust funded Money & Energy Adviser

Claire, a British Gas Energy Trust funded Money & Energy Adviser from Navigate Charity, in Somerset, writes the following guest blog post, providing insight into the process a client goes through when accessing Money, Energy and Debt services and support that is available.

“As an experienced Debt and Energy Adviser, the first thing I generally do with a new client is to ask them what has brought them to our service. We will have already triaged our clients before I see them at home and so I will have established whether they have any emergencies that we need to consider but asking this open question is a good way of identifying what is concerning them and hearing it in their own words. These concerns are often misguided beliefs and fears and my job is to help them understand whether they genuinely need to be concerned or whether the client simply needs to be reassured about a situation.

We are lucky in that we visit most of our clients at home and so I am able to pick up all sorts of information about the client’s circumstances that might otherwise be hidden if they were on the phone or in an office. You can tell if they have the heating on, whether there is damp in the property and whether they are looking after themselves or their house. Clues are everywhere; are the curtains pulled back in the day, is there the smell of dinner cooking? The normal day to day things we all take for granted when we feel well and have enough money to look after ourselves and our families.

The first one or two appointments with new clients are often very full-on for them and so I will break down what I am saying and recap throughout the visit so they understand what we are doing. Many of our clients who have worked with us often say that they were unsure of what it is we actually do! This is very normal and being frightened is a normal reaction.  It is our job to explain what we are doing and why. This really helps them understand the journey we will undertake together. I will sometimes leave a little written list of tasks that they can do themselves (if I think the client is able to do this) such as taking a meter reading or finding a statement.

As well as asking about their financial situation, we will take the time to truly understand their situation – we need to know about their health, this is because there are benefits they may be entitled to or safeguarding concerns that we need to share with others. I always tell them why we need this information and what we will do with it; transparency is key to building trust.

We can often spot a quick fix in some areas such as entitlement to benefits or grants that offer an immediate solution to a problem. They may have run out of food or electric and so we will look at ways to set up an emergency food parcel or fuel payment. Sometimes I will organise an application for white goods for things like cookers. This not only helps the client deal with an immediate crisis but again, it builds trust that we are there to help.

When I set up a home visit, I try and encourage clients to pull out information about their finances such as bank statement or letters from their creditors so that I can work out their needs but I understand if this feels too overwhelming for them. Many of my clients are unwell and they may need help to do this which is perfectly understandable and we will take these steps together instead.

Once we have all the information we need, which can take several weeks, I can build a financial statement which then informs me of the client’s debt options. I will explain these to the client and listen to their goals and we then work towards them.

Sadly, I do meet many clients who simply do not have enough money to cover their outgoings. This is called a negative or deficit budget and my job is to try and understand if we can correct this by looking at benefits entitlement or ways to reduce their non-essential expenditure. I will also look at other options such as applying to special tariffs for their water or broadband. With the cost of living crisis, I expect to see many more of these situations and will increasingly find that despite my efforts, some clients will simply not have enough money to cover their essential outgoings. We might then need to look at their outgoings in terms of what is the most important for them and the consequences of not paying.  In the longer term I think this is an area that requires a national response from the relevant decision makers so that measures are taken to prevent a long term situation where households remain locked into a cycle of poverty that they cannot change themselves.”

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