Energy advisors will use funds raised by this year’s Surviving Winter campaign to help older and vulnerable people who fear fuel bills.
The £90,000 campaign launched by the Wiltshire Community Foundation is working with Warm and Safe Wiltshire, one of four partners including Age UK and Citizens Advice in Swindon and Wiltshire.
The campaign, now in its 11th year, aims to help the more than 900 people, including the 400 elderly people, across the county who are at risk of dying from cold-related illness over the winter.
Warm and Safe Wiltshire, which is run by the Centre for Sustainable Energy, has a team of expert advisors who contact people at risk referred by charities, care and health workers.
They uncover the reasons why clients are struggling with fuel bills and suggest ways to run their heating more efficiently or help find cheaper tariffs. Often they have to win their confidence before they can help them.
“We would have offered home visits before Covid but obviously we can’t now,” said advisor Shareena Elnagy.
“It is always a great way to engage with people and really find out what their issue could be because it is not always easy for people to describe them over the phone. It is something we are having to work around and be more patient with.
“We have to keep the caller engaged and help them to realise we are in their corner. In some cases, we have had Zoom chats or WhatsApp calls when people are able.”
The Government estimates more than 30,000 people in the county live in fuel poverty, meaning they cannot afford to heat their homes properly.
The reasons why people are faced with unpayable bills can vary from poor or broken heating systems, badly insulated homes or spiralling debt with energy suppliers. The campaign will fund energy vouchers or pre-paid cards of up to £220 towards fuel bills, while advisors look to provide long-term assistance.
Miss Elnagy said: “It’s about looking at how they have got into that situation in the first place and how to avoid it. When they are in debt people don’t think they can come to an agreement and that they have to pay the whole bill, which just gets them into a much worse situation.”
Advisors can step in and negotiate sensible payment plans with suppliers or intercede with housing associations and private landlords to get repairs or improvements such as insulation carried out.
Thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation grant, there will also be a fund for boiler repairs and servicing. “We have a list of accredited repair firms so can pass that on and as long as people get two quotes, we can help,” said Miss Elnagy. “This fund will help us with repairs, which will be a big help.”
The service, which works with Wiltshire Council, Swindon Borough Council and Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, said it has already seen a ‘significant’ rise in calls due to the pandemic. “This year in particular we are getting a lot more calls from people who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut,” said Miss Elnagy.
“We are really pleased to be working with the Wiltshire Community Foundation again and really value their support. Surviving Winter has become a very well-known campaign and it is bringing a lot of people to us who need help.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Because of the generous support we are already receiving we are able to fund targeted and expert help that can make an immediate impact as well as a lasting difference through our fantastic partners.
“The Surviving Winter Campaign is an excellent mechanism for people to redirect their Government Winter Fuel Payment if they don’t need or want it and would like to help someone who would really benefit from it.”
Warm and Safe Wiltshire can be contacted from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday on 0800 0385722, and donations to Surviving Winter can be made at wiltshirecf.org.uk