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Helping refugee families understand the UK energy system

Energise Sussex Coast work (ESC) with Hastings Advice and Representation Centre (HARC) providing energy and money advice to people facing fuel poverty in East Sussex.

They recently took up the case of a newly settled refugee family and the issues they had in trying to understand the UK energy system. 

Energise Sussex Coast received a referral by a support worker for a Syrian multi generational family living in Bexhill. The family had been in the country for a year and had limited English.  

The family was made up of the mother, father, auntie, grandmother, grandfather and five children. They live in a large Victorian home with gas central heating. 

The energy system in this country is completely different to in Syria where people pay a fixed price for their energy to one company. The family didn’t understand the bills or the communications coming from their company. They had been paying £180 a month and had been accumulating debt on the account. They used a large amount of gas to try and keep their house warm. 

The family had rung their support worker when they discovered that EDF had taken £850 from their account for the second month running. The first time it had happened they had contacted their support worker who had rung EDF to try and get a refund. EDF had agreed to refund half and agreed a payment plan yet despite this they took £850 again the second month. The support worker then contacted ESC for help. 

Two of Energise Sussex Coast’s energy advisors visited the house. One of them spoke Arabic and was able to explain the bill to the family. Together they rang EDF. 

The energy advisor was able to explain the circumstances of the family and requested they were added to the PSR, as one of the family members has a disability, and to notify the company that they aren’t English speakers.

They spent a long time on the phone negotiating with the company and eventually were able to agree that they would refund £550 for the month, plus the half they had already promised but hadn’t sent for the last month. A payment plan was agreed with EDF and monthly direct debits of £350 which covered £250 usage plus repayment of the amount as the family felt they could afford this amount each month. 

Examining meter readings discovered that EDF had been vastly overestimating the projected energy use of the family. The advisor gave the meter readings to the energy company who explained that they were given an incorrect reading previously which had caused this mistake. Installation of a SMART meter was requested to ensure the family were billed correctly. 

They talked to the family about what temperature to set their thermostat at and showed them how to use the timers so the heating would just come on in the morning and evening. Time was taken to explain how energy is billed in the UK and how direct debits work. The family was set up with an online account so they could check their bills and use Google translate on their computer to make it easier to understand them. 

The family were given energy saving kit including draught proofing tape, window film, door brushes and radiator reflector panels.  

Key wins for the family included:

  1. Added to Priority Service Register 
  2. Corrected incorrect billing 
  3. Refund of £1100 credited back to the family’s bank account 
  4. SMART meter requested
  5. Energy reductions from energy saving kit
  6. Reduced stress and anxiety for the family who were very upset and worried when they saw the money was gone from their account

ESC are trying to find a way to organise a survey of the property (EPC D) with the local service which administers the Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery funding with the hope of installing some loft and wall insulation. The energy advisor will be present to help with translation and explain to the family the recommendations in the report.