As we all know, the issue of fuel poverty in the UK is a critical one. The statistics are compelling and also alarming — research conducted by Citizens Advice found that one in every six homes with a prepayment meter has gone without energy and effectively ‘self-disconnected’.
This means around 1.6 million people in the UK go without electricity or gas each year, due to the stark choice of heating or eating. These are people in real need of support.
That’s why we set up the npower Fuel Bank, working in partnership with the Trussell Trust, National Energy Action, and local independent food banks. The concept is simple: when someone who has a prepayment meter is referred to a food bank, they can receive a top-up fuel voucher alongside their food box, whether they’re an npower customer or not.
We’re still crunching the numbers for the scheme but the trial has helped over 3500 people across the UK, working with four local partners and 21 food banks. However, it’s not so much about the statistics but about the stories. For example, take the story of Chelsey, one of the beneficiaries of our trial in Kingston. She was forced to bring her son to the swimming pool or to her neighbours for a wash as she could not afford the money for hot water.
Thanks to Fuel Banks, she has enough money to get her shower up and running again. There are many stories like these out there and, as Vicki, one of our Fuel Banks users said,
‘It makes me feel like a person and not a failure’.
It’s worth stressing that the npower Fuel Bank is not going to solve the complex and difficult issue of fuel poverty – for which the best and long term solution remains insulation and energy efficiency measures. But it is a very effective way of getting targeted and effective help to people at a moment of real crisis in their lives.
We’re already thinking about how we can take npower Fuel Banks to the next level and extend the initiative further. It’s a project that works best when it’s highly targeted; we want to focus on the areas of highest deprivation so that we can make the greatest possible impact.
Part of the reason for the success of npower Fuel Banks is that everyone involved has clear areas of responsibility and are able to play to their strengths. We have formed a strong partnership with a range of agencies, showing that businesses and charities really can work together and use their expertise to help the wider world.
Big firms can have so much to offer to the wider world, as long as they build focused, meaningful relationships with trusted partners.