STATEMENT: ‘We are deeply concerned that those most vulnerable won’t have access to help they desperately need’

Support for households must be accompanied by rapid action to increase the capacity and improve the coordination of energy advice services, making it easier for people to access help and make their budgets go further.

Groundwork has been helping households experiencing fuel poverty for the past 15 years through its Green Doctor service, which provides free independent advice on how to cut bills and access additional support. The increase in energy prices is leading to spiralling demand – and without extra support, services will not be able to keep up with demand over the winter.

So far this year, Groundwork’s Green Doctors in Yorkshire have given out almost twice as many emergency fuel vouchers as in the whole of 2021/22. They have seen a 25% increase in fuel debt support requests and a 46% increase in people having mental health issues associated with stress from money issues. Funding on some programmes has almost all been allocated, with four months left of the year. This is all before the cold weather begins and people start relying on their heating to stay warm and well.

Graham Duxbury, Groundwork’s UK Chief Executive, said:

“As a charity that supports people living in fuel poverty, we are alarmed at the volume of requests for help that are coming through. With more price rises due over the winter, we are deeply concerned that those most vulnerable won’t have access to help they desperately need.

“This latest announcement makes it clear that urgent action is needed to help people cope with this worsening crisis which will lead to unprecedented hardship.

“Energy companies, charities and independent experts all agree that the measures in place are not enough. As well as more emergency financial support and a long-term commitment to improving the energy efficiency of our homes we also need more – and better coordinated – advice. Groundwork’s Green Doctor service is one of many trying to help people through practical advice and emotional support, but these services are too often reliant on short-term funding with complex rules.

“What we need is simpler, more stable funding models so that we can help those worst off to make best use of the help they’re getting and preserve as much warmth as they can this winter, but also help those who are being pitched into fuel poverty for the first time to make the practical and behavioural changes needed to minimise their bills.”

Andrew Pinches, a Green Doctor working on Groundwork’s Energyworks programme in Greater Manchester, adds:

“We have run the Green Doctor service across Greater Manchester for a number of years but are seeing record demand – the impacts of Covid combined with the cost of living crisis means many people are struggling to keep their lights on and, as winter approaches, their heating.

“Those profiting from the energy crisis, have an obligation to do more to support their customers. We need more support from the government to help low income and vulnerable people but there is also advice needed for working people who don’t qualify for emergency payments. People are facing energy bills which will swallow up large portions of their income and leave less money for food and other essentials – especially devastating for single parents and older people.

“As well as taking practical steps to improve energy efficiency in the home I would implore people to keep a channel of communication open with their supplier if they are worried about paying their bills. With an understanding of an individual’s situation they are less likely to send out threatening letters and can offer proactive solutions.”

John’s story

There are a lot of people out there who are struggling. People with young families who are saying ‘do I buy food, or do I put the heating on?’. When you have an energy bill hanging over you, you just want to get rid of it.

John from Sunderland was £700 in debt to his supplier despite living alone in a one bed flat. He knew the readings were incorrect but the energy company insisted on multiple occasions that he was wrong and refused him a smart meter.

I felt like I was bashing my head off a wall. I didn’t really want to speak to anybody, I didn’t want to pick the phone up to speak to people. I was scared to put my heating on. During the winter I was putting jumpers on rather than using my heating.

After spending two full winters without heating – his support worker told him to put it on for one hour per day but only when he was desperate – John got in contact with Groundwork to seek advice.

The Green Doctor took the stress away from me. She reassured me. It was an education that there are people are out there. You’re not on your own.

Notes to Editors

For further comment, please email or call 07793844627.

About Groundwork

Groundwork is a charity working locally and nationally to transform lives in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities. We’re passionate about creating a future where every neighbourhood is vibrant and green, every community is strong and able to shape its own destiny and no one is held back by their background or circumstances. We help people gain confidence and skills, get into training and work, protect and improve green spaces, lead more active lives and overcome significant challenges such as poverty, isolation, low skills and poor health.