This year did not turn out like any other known to those of us of working age. There was no possibility of business as usual. To try and carry on regardless would mean failing to address the needs of people and partners faced with exceptional hardship and challenge. NEA had to adapt to meet the many challenges of 2020. Like everyone else we would have wished to develop new ways of working in good times, rather in the midst of a pandemic. But necessity remains the mother of invention and across all of our activities we showed flexibility and commitment to be able to continue our vital work to help those in fuel poverty. Everything that we do, we do in partnership with others and this year we have appreciated the support and insight of our partners and supporters more than ever before.
As the Covid-19 crisis progressed the demand on our advice services increased. Through initiatives such as our Warm and Safe Homes Advice Service in England and Wales; and Northern Exposure and Warm and Well project in Northern Ireland; we helped thousands of households experiencing multiple hardships. Support included providing electricity, gas and oil top ups; fuel-debt advice and benefit claims support.
We responded to the changing policy and advice landscape by developing and updating a range of new resources to help people in fuel poverty. We also focused on expanding our e-learning and launching new digital training offerings so we could continue to improve energy advice standards even during a time when face-to-face activities were not possible.
Our regular stakeholder engagement, spearheaded by a series of events and the annual conference, had to be reshaped and altered to fit this new reality. When the crisis hit we knew it would be critical to continue to bring people together to discuss new challenges and solutions. We took the opportunity to go online and launched a new digital events programme, incorporating fuel poverty forums, policy updates, and workshops. The highlight of this was Warm Homes Week – a four-day series of events, workshops and training in September 2020 bringing together 649 organisations and more than 2500 registrations in total.
As well as supporting individuals directly we also gathered evidence to understand the impacts of the crisis on those in fuel poverty and worked even closer with Governments, regulators, the energy industry and consumer representatives to ensure that the needs of low-income energy customers are recognised and addressed.
Our looked at the impacts of the first wave of Covid-19 on vulnerable people and those supporting them, while our report Surviving the Wilderness provided an evidence synthesis of personal debt, both prior and post the Covid-19 outbreak. The report and NEA’s wider engagement has helped prompt a Water Affordability Review, with recommendations next year on how a consistent set of measures can be adopted to support customers experiencing financial difficulty.
We also worked with national and local Public Health bodies to highlight and address the links between COVID-19 and the impacts of cold homes. Fuel Poverty Awareness Day on 27 November provided an opportunity to highlight the challenges facing people this winter as well as the support which was available for those struggling. Project work continued and had to be delivered online including establishing our Fishwick project, where we will manage remedial works required to rectify damage caused by defective external wall insulation in up to 321 properties which came about in 2013 as part of a national energy efficiency scheme.
In this year, Covid dominated and dictated the reality for every organisation. This is a summary of some of our progress on policy priorities for 2020/21:
- Ensured England, Wales established new fuel poverty strategies or plans with a similar commitment (still pending in Northern Ireland)
- Warm Home Discount extended until 2026 and expanded so that NEA can continue to deliver Industry Initiatives and more fuel poor households can receive this vital support
- ECO extended until 2026 and doubled in size so that more fuel poor households will receive support
- UK Government introduces the new Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and new Home Upgrade Grant Scheme (HUGs) which should have a positive impact on fuel poor homes
- Doubled the support for energy networks to address vulnerable customers’ needs and take greater steps to facilitate a more efficient energy system within RIIO2
- New protections in place to address risks of self-disconnection and ability to pay
- Worked with Public Health England and other health agencies to highlight the links between Covid-19 and the impacts of cold homes
- Enhanced industry response to protecting customers during Covid-19.