Posted: 17 March 2016

Families in Bradford now feeling Warm and Informed

Over the last year, we have been working with Northern Gas Network across two of our children’s centres in Bradford to deliver fuel poverty advice.

The work has been a real success, and we have learned a lot about what works best.

Crucially though, low income families in the area have been able to access the help and support that they needed. As a result of our direct work, over £75,000 of energy debt was written off for families over the course of the project.

We spread the net wide to appeal to families

We used different methods to engage with families and make sure we could reach those who were most in need of support.

As well as delivering workshops at the children’s centres we visited hard to reach areas, providing information about fuel poverty support. We carried out home assessment visits for those families who did not access the children’s centre’s services, or were in need of specific advice on home energy issues

In total, the project held 18 fuel poverty workshops across both centres and organised 152 home assessment appointments. The workshops were attended by 247 participants.

We provided energy advice appointments in the home or at one of the centres to discuss ways that families could be more energy efficient.

In these appointments we also covered their access to benefits and provided a wide range of activities and facilities to make sure the sessions were accessible to all. These included cooking lessons, crèche facilities, free lunches and translators.

We found that the children’s centres proved to be a useful location for building engagement with the community. A number of low income and fuel poor families already accessed the services available there so we could build on the support already provided.

The tailored approach was really appreciated

The majority of parents told us how important, useful or enjoyable they had found the centres’ activities to be, saying, ‘this centre is so important. I don’t know what we’d do without it’ and ‘the centre is absolutely fantastic’.

Advice from a generalist advisor was seen as especially valuable. One client said, ‘The centre helps people who are lonely, isolated, going through difficult times. It’s good that you can talk confidentially here, and it’s easy to talk to the advisors.’

A common route to engagement with the project was for local families to hear about the scheme through an outreach visit, then have a home assessment visit and be supported by the project worker to apply for the Warm Home Discount. Knowledge of this support, which is worth £140 a year to families who are eligible, was very low. Being supported to receive this represented an easy and quick win for staff and helped them to build trust with participants. You can check if you are eligible on the Government's website. 

Tailoring the type of activity to the clientele at different centres was needed to reflect different demographics, language capabilities and energy priorities in their homes. One centre predominantly focussed on white working class residents, and the other working with BME families. However, there were some common themes, with both groups stressing how having access to a crèche and activities for children available at the centre was vital in order to enable them to attend the sessions.

What we learned, and what still needs to be done

The learning from the project has informed our recommendations for national and local government and practitioners working with families.

We believe this could go a long way towards alleviating the impact of fuel poverty on families with children.

Recommendations

  • Children’s centres running fuel poverty services should build in capacity for wraparound services and advice provision that will be generated as a knock-on effect from running an energy debt project.
  • Local authorities should use existing community venues as hubs to deliver outreach debt advice and fuel poverty work, to ensure hard to reach families are able to access this service and support.
  • Government should move families living in poverty into the core group eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount to ensure that they get help automatically, rather than having to apply for the scheme through broader group eligibility as it currently stands

Read our advice for families struggling energy debt.

By David Ayre - Policy team
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