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Partnership enables co-operative to deliver more

The award-winning Energise Sussex Coast – a co-operative working in partnership with Hasting’s Advice and Representation Centre to deliver British Gas Energy trust funded energy advice across communities in east Sussex – has forged close links with other co-operatives and charities to expand its services and help thousands more people each year.

Energise Sussex Coast has forged a close working relationship with another Trust funded project the, Exeter Community Energy.

Exeter Community Energy developed a CRM system to track its performance and client management, then showcased it with others at a recent networking event.

Knowing it couldn’t afford to implement a new CRM system on its own, Energise Sussex Coast approached Exeter Community Energy to collaborate on the project.

Kate Meakin, Director at Energise Sussex Coast, said:

“We’re so thankful to Exeter Community Energy for helping us adapt and implement this new CRM system. Through our relationship with them, it’s been ultra-affordable, and we really appreciate that.

“There are a lot of similarities between the two organisations – but they’re much bigger than us. We’re probably about two years behind them and are at a stage where we need to develop a CRM function to help us analyse our data much better than we do now.

“With their help, we’re able to adopt the system and get hold of data easily, so when new funding becomes available, we’re able to look and easily identify households that will be eligible for support.”

These organisations are also working in partnership with a third charity – South East London Community Energy – to develop training to increase the ongoing provision of energy advice through community volunteers.

Energise Sussex Coast scooped the Fuel Poverty Action award at this year’s Community Energy England Awards for the quality of their energy advice.

British Gas Energy Trust started funding the co-operative during the coronavirus pandemic, with the funding transforming the way it worked in its community.

Prior to this, Energise Sussex Coast work only carried out in-person advice through a series of outreach advisors working out in the community.

With lockdowns hitting, that work had to be curtailed. Their British Gas Energy Trust funded project, ‘Welfare, Benefits and Energy Advice’, meant they could open a new helpline to reach more people, and it supports them in offering income maximisation checks, benefits support, budgeting assistance, energy advice and energy efficiency checks.

In the last few months, the project has allowed Energise Sussex Coast to dedicate nearly 400 casework hours to over 200 clients, resulting in total income gains upwards of £480,000.

Kate added:

“Around 75% of the people we help are helped through the phoneline now, and only 25% in community settings. 

“It’s important because we’re seeing a lot of people with crazy or incorrect bills. And a lot of these customers present with mental health problems, which means they struggle to communicate with their energy providers. We’re having to spend a lot of time ringing up and working out what’s gone wrong. We could be on the phone for 45 minutes before we get through to anyone.

“We found it difficult last year, and we’re expecting similar problems this winter. People on prepayment meters have to cover their winter energy costs when they use it rather than being able to spread it out across the year as people with direct debit do, but that could mean monthly bills in the colder months are around £350 – a level that people couldn’t possibly pay so people will be going without heat when they need it.

“Last year we received 12,000 phone calls but could only answer 7,000 of them.

“Thanks to British Gas Energy Trust, we’ve been able to get extra funding to recruit another person which will help us answer more of these calls and help more people.

“And we’re doing more than ever – as well as offering advice around energy our fantastic partners HARC (Hastings Advice and Representation Centre) offer welfare benefits advice and support, and we are very pleased to launch an energy debt help service from this Autumn as we have received extra funding which has allowed us to join Community Money Advice as a Connect debt centre.”

To find out more about energy and money advice available in your area, please click here.