We are in the week before the UK hosts COP26, the most important conference to tackle climate change in our generation.

Whilst I personally believe this is an important moment to tackle the climate crisis, I wonder if this conference will really impact on UK policy and positively impact the lives of the average person – in particular the fuel poor, and not leave them behind in the rush to reach Net Zero.

We all know the climate crisis will impact first and hardest on those who have the least in society.

How do we communicate a carbon saving message to a family who cannot pay their energy bills? How do older people associate with climate change as they sit in a cold home they cannot afford to heat?

As the UK also faces a crisis this winter with spiralling energy prices, how can people on low incomes really think about the wider issues of climate change? Their immediate need is to be able to pay for gas to heat their home and cook hot food.

Yesterday’s budget didn’t exactly offer those on low incomes anything in the way of additional support this winter either.

Groundwork’s Green Doctor teams work across the UK providing complex energy advice to those who can afford to consider how they can reduce their environmental impact through new technologies and I’ll discuss that more in my next article.

However, our main ambition is to help eradicate fuel poverty. Our Green Doctors help residents stay warm and well through identifying the causes of heat loss in the home, and advise them on energy efficiency measures, find more affordable energy providers and accessing grants and other support to manage their bills and any utility debt. Our service is personalised and we take time to follow through with any support households need.

When Housing Association are installing large- and small-scale energy efficiency measures in their homes, Green Doctors can support residents throughout the process. We communicate the project to those affected, answering any questions or concerns, and provide a constant point of contact for the duration of the work. Engaging residents in the process is crucial to ensuring that they maximise the benefits of the measures.

The dilemma for us is that our service typically means supporting residents with managing their use of gas and avoiding self-disconnection caused by struggling with bills. We advise on access to grants to pay for heating costs, Warm Homes Discount, and providing where we can, emergency fuel tops ups for families who desperately need access to energy.

Green Doctors carry out over 60,000 UK-wide home visits each year saving residents over £1.4m on their bills. During the 2020/21 we gave out over £169,000 in £50 top up vouchers to those in crisis across the North of England alone, and we will need to access funding to enable us to the same this winter.

As we move forward Groundwork will be working to meet the changing needs of consumers interested in reducing their personal carbon footprint, but supporting people that are living in fuel poverty to heat their homes and feed their families will always remain at the heart of our Green Doctor programme.

Emily Thompson, Fuel Poverty & Climate Change Director