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The challenges and benefits of delivering energy and money advice in the community

“The challenges and benefits of delivering energy and money advice in the community”, in the words of Maria, trainee Money Advisor at Navigate, part of the Wis£er Money Partnership – funded by British Gas Energy Trust.

www.Wisermoney.org.uk 

Wis£rmoney is a partnership between Navigate Charity and Encompass Southwest. The partnership was formed in 2012 and currently delivers a number of projects across Devon and Somerset aiming to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and financial resilience of people living in rural settlements.

The partnership specialises in working with people who are living on low-incomes in communities across the counties of Devon and Somerset experiencing (or at risk of experiencing), poverty, financial hardship, and social and financial exclusion.​

“Working within the districts of rural Somerset and Devon brings its own challenges such as old, poorly heated and insulated homes with no option of mains gas. Often relying on more expensive forms of heating such as coal, wood, oil, storage heaters as well as clients using bottled gas, electric fan heaters and convector heaters. There is much evidence that these issues have an extremely negative impact on our clients physical and mental health.

Some of us may remember the dashing downstairs to get dressed as our homes growing up were poorly heated, sadly this is still the reality for some of our clients where upon working with them you discover they are only able to afford to heat one room and are sitting with coats and hats on to try and minimise their heating consumption.

Following the advice and training from the N.E.A. Level 3 Energy Awareness Award we have been able to assist clients to make the best use of their heating systems, efficiently read energy bills, know consumption and efficiency costs and switch energy providers to save money and cut bills. As the clients we work with typically have debt and money issues it is important we are able to  assist them to identify home heat loss and insulation and home energy improvements that are accessible to them, including replacement heating systems, boilers, draft proofing, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and more.

We have also been able apply to trust funds to write off client fuel debts as part of the debt and money advice process, we have helped clients to access emergency fuel vouchers when they have found themselves in need. We have been able to refer for grants from people who have donated their winter fuel payments to those in greatest need. In order to help clients longer term we have been able to refer to organizations such as Green Deal, Centre for Sustainable Energy and energy advice centres, switching services, to ensure they are better equipped to heat their homes going forward.

The services we can provide not only provide people with better money and budgeting skills but have a wider impact and the feedback from clients are they report much improved quality of life, decreased anxiety and an overall improvement in both physical and mental health.

To be able to look at the wider picture and the closely linked issues of debt, mental health and fuel poverty have certainly made considerable differences to our clients, just ask the lady who when we first met her was washing in the stream at the bottom of the garden who is now in her more comfortable home and being able to wash at a sink! This is the bigger picture we are tackling often hidden from the general public.

My own personal and previous work experiences have given me a good basis of knowledge, firstly I worked in the statutory sector for many years directly dealing with the public and partner agencies within a Social Work team, at that time I was living in an old cottage with only an open fire for warmth, so direct experience of poor heating, poor insulation and fuel poverty!

I gained a keen interest in working with people with Mental Health issues during my time in the multidisciplinary team and I joined the BGET project firstly as a Mental Health Caseworker working closely with the Money Advisers. I soon learnt the huge impact a debt solution along with the all the other work they did plus the mental health support had on clients. When the BGET Trainee Money Adviser job was advertised I felt this was a great opportunity to build on what I already knew and learn much more!

I have had many unique experiences of being able to make a real difference to people’s life, the stress that can be lifted from people who cannot see a way forward gives a huge sense of satisfaction to me. I am privileged to be able to work with individuals is such a person centred and holistic manner which in turn leads to great outcomes for the people I work with.

I often feel my work with clients takes us both on a journey where we start at the beginning and aim at the end to be warm, have enough food, have social connections and to feel safe, alleviating money worries and giving people the tools to move forward in their lives. How can you not want to do this job!”

With thanks to Maria, trainee Money Advisor at Navigate