Helping vulnerable energy customers during lockdown

Donna Senghore, NEA Project Support Officer, is usually the first point of contact for our Warm and Safe Homes Advice Service. She shares an insight into how Covid-19 is impacting our clients and the types of help we’re able to offer.

As I no longer have the daily commute into work I pretty much get myself up and then head straight to my laptop to see if I have received any new referrals and check my phone for any new texts or voicemails I’ve received from clients or referring organisations.

I then start the morning call-backs. One change to our norm has been a greater variety and volume of issues. We are hearing from all sorts of people including:

  • furloughed workers wondering about income and entitlements to meet their liabilities at an 80% salary – unsure about the process and how they are going to afford their next energy bill.
  • people looking for help from foodbanks which are normally available but many which have closed or operating restricted hours.
  • people not able to get through to the DWP to initiate or progress benefit claims
  • people who have never previously struggled with their energy bills but since Covid19 are no longer able to work or have been made redundant and not sure how they are going to pay their bills or what their entitlements might be

Normally calls would be referred to a local project coordinator based in the client’s region to conduct a face to face visit, but now they deliver advice over the telephone. To respond to the crisis, we updated our call system so calls can more easily be redirected to colleagues’ mobiles anywhere in the country.

A lot more people are struggling and running out of money to top-up, NEA is fortunate that we have some limited crisis funds, but many are subject to an eligibility criteria and of course the amount of money available is limited so they can’t help everyone. It is such a welcome relief when one of the calls is from someone who ticks that box and we can quickly initiate a £49 top up for their meter.

Using Microsoft Teams has been one the biggest changes for NEA, I now ‘see’ and chat to some of my remote colleagues more than ever before, through video chats and in online groups.

Clients need our help more than ever and although we would much rather be able to speak to them face to face in their home to get the best possible view of their situation, we are thankful that we are still able to offer a lifeline to many through our phone and online services.

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