100% Digital Leeds

This story first appeared on Digital Inclusion Leeds 

Groundwork is a charity working nationally and locally to transform lives in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities. Groundwork’s ‘Green Doctors’ support people in their homes and the community to save money and resources, cutting the number of households in fuel poverty. Green Doctors are experienced advisers who know how to make the biggest cost savings and how to gently encourage behaviour change for the better. They are also expert referrers, understanding that people struggling with their bills or living in cold, damp homes will be dealing with a wide range of issues from health conditions to loneliness, and able to spot issues like these and refer people to the right local service.

Green Doctors give practical advice and guidance to help people reduce utility bills and find solutions to their energy problems. They help people to understand their energy bills, find the best energy deal for them, and switch to a new tariff or provider if necessary. They help people to claim benefits and join schemes that they may not have known they were entitled to, and refer to other agencies for support where needed.

The team borrowed 6 4G enabled iPads from 100% Digital Leeds to give them more freedom to support people in their homes and in the community. The iPads have helped the Green Doctors to quickly and easily demonstrate the benefits of being online to those who do not have access to a device or do not have WiFi. The team also had Digital Champions training which helped them to motivate and support their clients to take their first steps with digital.

Between the 1st Jan 2019 and the 17th Oct 2019 the Green Doctors made approx 1572 home energy visits using the 100% Digital Leeds iPads and ran multiple engagement sessions in the community.

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Basic digital skills helping people out of fuel poverty

Digital Inclusion is key for helping the most vulnerable in society. We know that digital exclusion compounds the ‘poverty premium’ – the extra money that those experiencing poverty pay for goods and services – and the cost of utilities is a prime example of this. The best deals can be found online and the most vulnerable people, those who do not have access to the internet, miss out on the best tariffs.

Many people assume that switching utilities is a difficult process, billing can be difficult to understand, and tariffs can be difficult to understand. Price comparison sites can make the process simpler to understand but need the necessary basic digital skills to access and navigate. Even with these skills, many people avoid the hassle of switching and continue to pay more than they need to for utilities. It is possible to switch tariffs or suppliers over the telephone but the process if much easier online, so those without access to the internet are even less likely to switch. Many of the cheapest deals are ‘online only’ making them inaccessible to the most vulnerable in society.

“We show people the difference they can make to their bills by switching energy companies. The difference between being online and not being online is around £200, normally”

Green Doctors support those with low or no digital skills to access the information and services needed to save money on their utility bills. This includes helping people to: properly understand their billing; understand the information needed to compare complex tariffs; identify the right tariff for them; access grants and schemes. In this way the Green Doctors save thousands of people hundreds of pounds.

“A lot of people don’t have access to the internet and they’re losing trust with ringing the energy companies because it just takes so long to get through. When we go on visits it takes literally 2 minutes to go on to the iPads, get their account number, type in all the relevant details and then they’ll get a yes or know as to whether they get the Warm Home Discount, that £140, which is a really big help over the winter months.”

 

Supporting people to develop transferable digital skills

As well as demonstrating the ease of comparing and switching utilities using sites like Groundwork Switch, helping people to find cheaper tariffs, and supporting people to switch, the Green Doctors support people to develop the digital skills needed to complete this process again in the future. These are transferable skills like searching for information, navigating a website, filling in an online form, downloading an app, and using email.

“We use a site called Groundwork Switch that shows all of the energy companies and if someone has their own device we would do it on their device. We’d show them step-by-step how to do it and if they did want to do the switch there we could help them, or they now have the relevant information and technical skills to do it for themselves later.

At the end of the visit we download the energy company’s app which makes it a lot easier for people. That gives them the skills to search for other things that might be beneficial to them via the internet rather than waiting for people to come in to their homes and show them – it gives people the confidence to do it for themselves.

Most people switch every 12 months so we show them how to do it this time, hopefully in the next 12 months they can do it by themselves. It’s not an instant thing of ‘yes, I can use the internet now’ but if we don’t get a phone call from them in the next year it shows they’re using the technology a little bit more.”

 

Helping the most vulnerable in Leeds

There is further assistance available for those especially vulnerable and the Green Doctors raise awareness of the additional support available to those who are entitled to apply.

The Priority Service Register is service run by Northern Powergrid that ensures that vulnerable people get the support they need during a power cut. Extra support is available to those who rely on power for medical reasons, are elderly, sick or disabled, have young children to look after, or have trouble communicating.

Green Doctors ensure that people are aware of this service and that they are entitled to extra care in times of need, and support them to apply for the service online, giving them peace of mind that they will be looked after during a power cut.

“This service automatically contacts multiple services rather than people having to ring lots of companies. This is something people can do themselves without digital skills but would take many phone calls. Once signed up they get information send through the post. Making sure people know about this service helps people to understand their own added vulnerabilities as well as the services available to support them.”

Green Doctors promote awareness of the Government’s Warm Home Discount Scheme, which offers those on a low income a one-off discount of £140 on their winter electricity bill. This can make a massive difference to those struggling with fuel poverty. Again, Green Doctors support applicants to complete the process themselves online, so that they can do the same independently in coming years.

The Green Doctors helped a woman living alone in a large house in north Leeds to considerably reduce her utility bills. Her estimates were billed by postcode and the number of people estimated to be living at the property. By supporting the woman to use comparison sites the Green Doctor was able to help her save over £100 on her gas bill. With the help of the iPad the client could easily see the difference between the standard tariff and a longer fixed rate option and the Green Doctor could explain and compare complicated information regarding kWhs (kilowatt hours) and standing charges, allowing the client to understand how the saving was made and feel able to find better deals online in the future. Similarly, the Green Doctor was able to support the woman to access her Yorkshire Water bill online and discovered that she was being billed over £100 for her water. The woman was supported to access information on water meters to make an informed decision on whether she wanted to make the change, and to make an installation booking. She also found out she was eligible for the Warm Homes Discount and Priority Service Register and was able to save over £1100 over the course of a year.

“The Green Doctor explained that the lady could make a huge saving from letting Yorkshire Water install a water meter. She was again unsure as she thought she used lots of water and wouldn’t benefit from this measure. With the help of the iPad the Green Doctor could show her documents regarding water meters and how it would benefit her. The Yorkshire water website has a frequently asked questions page, the iPad allowed easy access to all this content which showed the client how much she would save and that there was nothing to fear from getting a water meter installed. The final online document showed that the average person who lives by themselves and who has a water meter saves spends around £200-£300 a year. This would be a saving of around £1000 and the client immediately wanted to book an appointment to get one fitted.

Having access to the iPad in this situation allowed us to access literature quickly and reinforce points that are often hard to believe, such as water meter saving. The client had been paying her energy and water bills for a long time and had not really noticed the price increases over the years. With the iPad we were able to show her the best possible deals and she now know to look online more often for better deals and tariffs.”

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Reaching communities

As well as helping people in their own homes, Green Doctors frequently run outreach sessions out in the community in partnership with One Stop Centres, Neighbourhood Networks, Schools, and Community Centres. This allows Green Doctors to effectively reach target groups like older people, people with learning difficulties, refugees, and families with young children, and support them to develop their basic digital skills.

Groundwork ran a Switching Session at Oak House in central Leeds, supporting Syrian Refugees to compare utility prices using Groundwork Switch. Clients were supported to better understand their bills and improve their online skills to help them save money on their bills in the future. The session was set up with three iPads: one for the Green Doctor to explain and to show how to use the switching site; another for the interpreter who explained the finer details to the client and gave them step by step instructions; and one for the client themselves so they could see the process and complete the switch themselves with the guidance of the Green Doctor.

“The client who saved the most was able to switch to a cheaper online fixed rate tariff with the same provider and was able to apply for the warm homes discount, all because he has access to an iPad and was shown the steps on how to switch.  He had previously been on a variable tariff and was struggling to understand why his bills were rising over the winter period. We explained that he would be better with a Fixed Online direct debit tariff. The client was able to save £30 by going online and we were able to apply for the warm homes discount with his account number which will hopefully be £140 of credit onto his electricity bill.”

The Green Doctor stall at Bishops Young Academy in Seacroft was a chance for the Green Doctors to engage parents. In this instance the majority of clients had good basic digital skills but lacked an awareness of online services. The session allowed the Green Doctor to show parents services that would directly benefit them. As most were parents of young children the Green Doctor was able to help them sign up to the Priority Services register and introduce them to other relevant schemes.

“The Digital Leeds iPads allows us to quickly access materials and services and show potential clients what we can offer when we are on the visit.”