People struggling to pay their bills are being invited to take advantage of a free service which helps individuals stay warm and healthy in their homes.
Chichester District Council (CDC) and Arun District Council (ADC) share a Wellbeing Home Service, which is primarily aimed at vulnerable households.
These include people on low incomes, older adults, people with young children and those with long-term health conditions who own their own home or rent privately.
The service’s advice covers how to keep warm, reducing energy bills, income maximisation, managing debts, boiler grants and insulation, plus simple ways to use your heating system effectively. It also signposts people to services that help with other issues.
In 2012, data from Public Health England pointed to 2.28 million fuel-poor households across England, where people on low incomes face high costs of keeping adequately warm and paying other basic energy services.
Considerable numbers of people in Chichester and Arun districts are classed as being in fuel poverty. In 2015, a CDC report found Chichester district had double the national average number of homes experiencing excess cold, across the rented and private sectors.
CDC cabinet member for housing Cllr Jane Kilby said: “Our district is regarded as being fairly well-off and I don’t think the idea that people were living in very cold conditions had ever occurred to anyone. At that point, we knew it was important to put something in place to help tackle this serious issue and help improve the lives of residents experiencing these problems.”
Councillors decided to invest £327,000 over five years and launched the Chichester Warm Homes Initiative, which pays for the installation of efficient heating systems and loft and wall insulation for low-income residents.
Cllr Kilby said: “So far, the scheme has really made a difference to those who have taken it up. But we want to ensure that people know that this funding is available, so that we can help even more of our residents. Having a cold home can have a detrimental effect on your health. In the winter, it can exacerbate existing health problems. A cold home can also have a serious impact on a person’s mental health; research has shown that this affects young people in particular.”
Sometimes, it only takes a few simple actions to make a world of difference.
Home Energy Advisors Emma Pagett and Jo Williamson work under Arun and Chichester district councils’ Wellbeing teams.
They run the Wellbeing Home Service, working with organisations in both districts to identify people on low incomes who may benefit from their expertise. When they receive a referral, they carry out a free home visit, aiming to help home-owners and people in private rented accommodation make their homes more comfortable and energy- and cost-efficient. Emma said: “Our service is for people whose home may be cold and damp, they may be suffering from health problems or worried about their heating bills.”
Jo and Emma offer free energy-saving devices, practical advice and information about keeping warm and healthy and getting the best energy deals and government discounts. They also refer people to local and national insulation and heating grants.
Emma said: “The cases we deal with are so diverse. One situation involved helping a young woman in private rented accommodation who had asthma and was receiving income-related benefits. She was also pregnant and had another young child. She was spending a lot of money on energy, so the Citizens Advice Bureau referred her to us for support.”
The team offer her tips on using her heating system efficiently, helped her save £70 by changing her energy tariff and encouraged her to apply for a Warm Home Discount of £140.
Jo said fuel poverty is not always the issue: “One gentleman was in emergency accommodation because he’d lost the job which provided his accommodation. He suffered from osteoarthritis and pre-diabetes and was spending £36 every fortnight on electricity. He had very little income left for food and heating.”
Having been alerted by homeless charity Stonepillow, Emma and Jo contacted the man’s support worker, delivered a Winter Warmth pack and referred him to debt-support charity Step Change and Christians Against Poverty (CAP), which runs job clubs and debt-support sessions.
Anyone who is experiencing a problem heating their home, or knows someone who is, can call Emma and Jo on 01243 521041.
To find out more, please see www.chichesterwellbeing.co.uk and http://arun.westsussexwellbeing.org.uk