Funding allows charity to manage almost £500,000 of energy debt
Funding from the British Gas Energy Trust has helped one charity in the North West to manage almost half a million pounds worth of energy debt for its customers.
Citizens Advice Rossendale and Hyndburn (CARH, transitioning to the new name of Citizens Advice East Lancashire) has received funding from British Gas Energy Trust since 2020, supporting thousands of people over the years to tackle their energy issues.
In the last year alone, the team – in conjunction with Citizens Advice Blackpool – has supported 456 clients with their energy issues – with more than half being in fuel poverty. In total, the charity has helped to manage or write off £487,658 of energy bills over the last 12 months.
With the majority of customers displaying mental health conditions, the charity is hoping to reach more people than ever through its extended regionalised network. It recently took part in Rossendale Borough Council’s Big Connect Mental Health event, which was attended by dozens of people from around 35 different community-focused organisations delivering much-needed services across the borough.
The event provided an opportunity to spread the word about the services CAHR offer.
Jenny Duthie, Service Delivery Manager at CARH, said:
“We want as many professionals to know about our services as possible so we can help reach the people in need.
“The people we see are overwhelmed by their issues. More than 50% of the people we see present with a mental health condition. They don’t know who to turn to. They don’t know where to start. Quite often, they are in a crisis, have complex issues and some of our caseworkers will sometimes feel they are a mental health support worker.
“It’s not light touch support. One person who came to us recently couldn’t get to us, so we did a home visit, we started to build up his confidence and after a couple of sessions he was able to visit us in our office. Each one of these sessions is around two hours long and it all adds up. We are offering holistic, in-depth support looking at various aspects – not just their energy debt – like income maximisation.
“But central to all this is that a lot of people don’t actually understand their energy bills, and that’s something we’re really passionate about changing.
“By building up better connections with organisations across the area, we can provide a more rounded service for people.”
Jackie Flynn, Community Projects and Partnerships Officer at Rossendale Borough Council, said:
“We know that mental health is so strongly linked to debt and financial struggles. It’s so important that people can access the support that’s available to them.
“People present with so many different issues – we have even created eight hypothetical case studies to represent the types of people we see in our community – but the cost of living underpins every single one of them.
“The biggest issue is people not knowing what support they are entitled do. And what we find is that if we can support people to address their finances, it frees up their mind for them to get help with other aspects of their lives.”
Last year, due to the cost-of-living crisis, CARH set up a new Food and Fuel Emergency Line, which helps people access services in their time of need.
An example of its impact can be seen through the lens of one woman who spent four months in hospital only to be discharged to her home where her prepayment gas meter had run out. With her suffering from respiratory problems, the only option was for the NHS to take her back to the hospital.
A quick phone call to the emergency line put the wheels in motion for a fuel voucher to be issued, the gas turned on and a food parcel to be delivered – all in the same afternoon. The desperate situation was resolved in just a few hours and helped unblock a hospital bed.
“It has been really successful, but it’s a reflection of how critical things are for some people that we have to do this.
“We’re grateful to all our funders for funding our projects, which all interlink and mean we’re able to provide a service which not only addresses the issues people are referred to us about but address the underlying issues people are facing.”
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