Affordable Energy Access

Helping prepayment customers switch to better value payment options

Project duration: October 2014 ongoing

This Comic Relief funded project aims to support anyone in Bristol, Weston-super-Mare and Bath who is in financial hardship and struggling to keep their home warm and safe, or to pay their bills. In particular it will target those on prepayment meters (PPM), people “who often pay the highest tariffs but have the lowest incomes and standards of housing” says project manager Kate Thomas.

“By using pre payment meters we are hoping to engage with people who do not see themselves as needing “energy efficiency advice” or as being “vulnerable”. We expect this to include low income families and single people of working age who are often not offered one-to-one support.”

What’s the problem with pre-payment meters?

PPMs require people to pay for their gas and electricity upfront by topping-up their meter. Not only does this tend to be more expensive, but it can also be a struggle for those with poor mobility to access top-up points, and unsafe for those with health conditions who rely on a constant electricity supply (see this case study example).

Energy bills are now the UK’s biggest household expense but people on PPMs cannot access more affordable rates. PPMs are usually 10% more costly than other payment methods; fixed rates or rates from suppliers not supporting the meters are not available to these customers. And many do not understand how their PPM account works. People need help to move from PPMs to monthly payments, but the process is complex and daunting. Universal Credit puts emphasis on monthly income and so provides an opportunity to move to a regular billing system, but recipients need to budget and use bank accounts. CSE’s existing advice services mean we have the experience and reach to help PPM customers, as well working relationships with the financial support organisations that can provide further debt advice. The grant covers a variety of outreach activities, similar to those undertaken regularly by our Home Energy Team. This includes dedicated community events, workshops and one-to-one advice for those that need on-going support via telephone or home visits.

Who will benefit?

Throughout the 3 year programme we hope to reach 1,500 people in financial hardship, particularly those on PPMs; helping them to increase their income, reduce their bills and provide money management skills so they are better able to avoid debt. To further the project’s scope, we will provide training and toolkits for fifty frontline workers who provide financial capability advice, to help them assess whether prepayment meters are appropriate for their clients. [In some cases they are a good option for people who prefer smaller, more frequent payments, or are repaying debt with regular deductions from their meter.]

You can find out how our support helped one client in this news story - Why did Peter whoop for joy?

What will the outcomes be?

Beneficiaries will be able to access more affordable energy and water, by changing metering system, or in the case of energy, moving supplier. They will gain knowledge of how to manage their energy use. For example, an improved understanding of how to use heating controls should make homes warmer and cheaper to heat.

The project will offer advice on budgeting and the soon-to-be-introduced Universal credit benefit system (learn more about our work to help people understand and prepare for the new system). For those that don’t have suitable banking facilities, assistance opening new accounts will allow them access credit meters, and therefore to more, cheaper tariffs.

Much of the target group will not be claiming benefits they’re entitled to. Affordable Energy will maximise people’s income by raising the awareness of the Warm Home Discount (a rebate on the household electricity bill), one-off grant offers for and mainstream benefits e.g. Personal Independence Payments, Pension Credit.

To help those in fuel or water debt, advisors will contact suppliers to get the debt written off, or put plans in place to repay the debt at an affordable rate. These clients will be shown how to monitor, pay and check the accuracy of utility bills, and can be referred for specialist debt advice.

If you, or people you advise, could benefit from support offered through the Affordable Energy Access project, please get in touch.

Call 0800 082 2234 or email home.energy@cse.org.uk

Image: Flickr, Kai Hendry, reproduced under a Creative Common license.

For further information contact:

Kate Thomas | 0117 934 1429

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