Citizens Advice Reading (CAR) set up shop in the Broad Street Mall on Saturday 20 February to help residents struggling to pay their fuel bills. The event was organised as part of the Warm Homes Campaign which is run by National Energy Action (NEA).
Many shoppers, concerned about their energy costs, took the opportunity to pick up a comprehensive information pack and to speak with an energy adviser.
Over 10% of Reading residents are estimated to be experiencing fuel poverty. Denise Huxtable, CAR’s Energy Champion, explained that managing rising fuel bills is a particular issue for those living in Reading, as the town contains a much larger component of pre-1919 building stock, which is less energy efficient.
Denise said her key message to anyone concerned about energy costs is:
“Don’t pay more than you need to.”
She explained that when people are on standard variable tariffs there is no real incentive for suppliers to offer them a better deal. She said:
“People may be able to save money by changing tariffs or suppliers.”
Denise also advises that many people could be eligible for additional benefits and grants from a variety of different sources. For example, many energy companies offer a £140 discount to customers who have a low income or are receiving certain benefits. In addition there may be help with the costs of making a home more energy efficient, such as free insulation or a replacement boiler. Simple changes in energy usage can also pay dividends in reducing bills. As 75% of energy bills go on heating and hot water, people can make savings by only switching on the heat and water when they are needed.
Denise urged anyone worried about energy:
“Don’t wait until it is too late to get advice.”
She explained that fuel poverty can affect anyone and can have a knock-on effect on all areas of people’s lives, making it harder to recover once a situation starts to spiral. The sooner people are able to get advice; the easier it will be to tackle the issues.
CAR can help people to find the best supplier and tariff for their needs and help them to switch over to the new supplier. In addition they can help people to check whether they qualify for extra help to make their homes more energy efficient, talk through simple energy saving measures around the home and advise people on getting help from special funds if they owe money to their supplier.
CAR is offering residents free one-to-one consultations to help them get the best energy deal. In addition they run group advice sessions in a range of different venues. These may be requested by or run in partnership with other voluntary organisations and include sessions for groups who find it harder to access on-line services.
Richard Lewis, Sustainable Homes Officer for Reading Borough Council (RBC), also attended the event. He explained that RBC offers additional support, home visits and advice to the most vulnerable residents experiencing fuel poverty or at risk from cold homes. RBC can help by carrying out a home energy check, giving advice on bills and energy providers, giving information on grants and by assisting residents to negotiate with and make payments to suppliers. CAR refers vulnerable residents to RBC for this additional support where appropriate.
Citizens Advice Reading also provides training for frontline staff of voluntary organisations to enable them to help their clients deal with their energy issues.
For further information or to make an appointment for energy advice, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or ring Citizens Advice Reading on 0118 9523022.