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Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis

Jessica Taplin, British Gas Energy Trust Chief Executive, has written an article for the New Stateman, highlighting why the help the Trust offers people across Britain is ever more important. 

Readers of this magazine will be all too aware of the harsh and harmful impacts of fuel poverty affecting people across the country. The enormous external shocks of the pandemic, escalating energy costs, and wider increases to the cost of living have all impacted the lives of families and individuals, many of whom may already have been vulnerable or struggling to cope financially.

The British Gas Energy Trust is an independent charitable body working towards the relief of poverty, particularly among those who are unable to pay for their energy, as well as through debt awareness and prevention. Our grant giving programmes help people to meet challenges and improve their daily lives against the odds, helping alleviate the detrimental impact of poverty, in particular fuel poverty.

In addition to energy debt relief grants for fuel-poor energy consumers, support is offered through a network of over fifty Trust-funded energy and debt programmes. The organisations we fund help people access support such as emergency fuel vouchers, energy efficiency measures for the home and income maximisation. Longer term interventions include skills development and casework support. Through accessing these services clients receive holistic in-depth support, including budget planning, debt write-off grants, home energy surveys, and mental health consultations and advice.

Funded solely by British Gas, since the launch of the Trust in 2004 over £130 million has been invested in helping hundreds of thousands of households across England, Scotland and Wales manage their energy costs. Last year alone our programmes were able to reach almost 30,000 beneficiaries, helping our clients supported by funded advisors secure £16m in additional annual income. We know that over a third of our grants support people with disabilities, caring responsibilities, or those with large families and single parents. Most households we fund are in the lowest two deciles when looking at national income levels.

This year the Trust has increased its grant giving to over £22m, thanks to a huge increase in funding and support from British Gas, who whilst separate This year the Trust has increased its grant giving to over £22m, thanks to a huge increase in funding and support from British Gas, who whilst separate from the Trust have provided funding since our inception. This new funding was a proactive, direct response to the current energy crisis. Over the last year over £17m has been awarded to households in direct relief energy grants, £1.2m in financial assistance payments and over £3.5m to charities to fund money and energy advice provision, alongside wider support

To ensure money is distributed where it is needed most, we use data and insight from partners to drive our funding approach. This was especially crucial during the pandemic, where service provision was mainly conducted remotely or in a limited manner due to lockdowns and restrictions on in-person contact. Funded organisations had to quickly react to the circumstances with innovative approaches, including digital skills training, mobile advice and leveraging the potential of partner venues and services.

The success of the organisations we fund and the services they provide to beneficiaries during these challenging times is very much the product of their local knowledge and unique expertise. That is why the Trust is proud to act as an enabler and capacity builder within this space, helping to achieve maximum positive social impact.

As an intelligent funder, we are committed to ensuring that funding is targeted at those areas most effected by fuel poverty and other indicators of poverty. This approach has allowed us to identify hot and cold spots at local authority level and provided evidence based guidance in the provisioning of our grants. Our focus as a funder is to continue to work proactively to identify those geographic areas and communities most at risk of the negative impacts of poverty, in particular fuel poverty, and work through partnerships and funding to target support at these groups.

Over fifty of our funded charity partners are now running services throughout England, Scotland, and Wales; delivering money and energy support projects to those most in need. This year our independent Board of Trustees extended funding beyond geographic targeting, to other communities, identifying groups most at risk of fuel poverty. Over £2m of new grants have been awarded to enable organisations such as Scope, Royal National Institute for the Blind, and Children’s Hospices Scotland to provide targeted support to their clients.

Funding is practical and flexible. We trust our partners to be knowledgeable about the specific needs in their community and define how they meet need with tailored support; but we do require our funding to fund money and energy advisors, enabling charities to set up new services or extend the reach of their work in the most vulnerable parts of their catchment areas with outreach and other crucial support services.

Whilst each charity provides support differently, most funded projects cover in-person, telephone, online and email support, with the aim to intervene early to prevent further debt increases and the associated impact on local people’s mental and physical health. Interventions could include energy efficiency advice and steps to take around the home, as well as emergency fuel vouchers, benefits support, advocacy and more.

By supporting a range of charities, across each region we believe that our programmes and the projects reach communities most in need of additional support, whilst enhancing the capacity of advice organisations across Britain, from Hartlepool to Hastings, from the Western Isles to Cardiff. This in turn helps many tens of thousands of people make informed choices, access additional income, enhance money management skills and get help with energy advice.

If you know someone who is struggling, especially with energy bills, help is available.

Read the New Statesman article here Cost-of-living crisis: how to support customers (