Wandsworth fuelbank – Fuelbanks and Families
The project aimed to tackle the issue of fuel poverty amongst low-income families, by providing both immediate solutions and longer-term support. When testing the feasibility fuelbanks and families worked closely with Wandsworth Foodbank, which highlighted two things: Firstly, how many families with dependent children were increasingly in crisis and coming forward for help, and also how many of these families needed ‘special’ parcels of food to take home – ‘special’ because they included food that did not need to be cooked. Secondly, families lacked the resource and power to cook food for their children, however much they wanted to. We realised that many families in poverty were also in fuel poverty, and increasingly facing the choice of ‘eat or heat’. Further research established that families whose homes are on prepayment meters are paying a ‘poverty premium’, with the highest tariffs for their fuel, and many of these families have to operate within a system of self-imposed cut-off, when as a family they cannot afford to feed the meter.
Five fuelbank sessions were delivered each week in Wandsworth through foodbank centres in Battersea, Tooting, Southfields, and Putney, with an additional weekly drop-in service at a non-foodbank venue, the Tara theatre in Earlsfield, giving the project good coverage of the borough. Families in immediate fuel crisis were referred to the foodbank sessions by our wide network of referral partners in statutory, voluntary and community services across the borough. The drop-in service was by self-referral following a publicity campaign. Families were provided with emergency fuel vouchers, and offered advice and longer term support through our specialist advice partner Centre 70.
An anonymous client had both gas and electricity accounts on pre-payment meters and there were no arrears on these accounts. There were, however, arrears on her Thames Water account and there was a threat of this account being passed to debt collectors. Negotiations were made to place the account on hold and an application was made to the Thames Water Customer Assistance Fund to clear the arrears. The client was already aware of this fund and had recently applied herself, but this application was refused. A new application was drafted and this gave more details of how the arrears had accrued. This second application was approved and a grant covering the full amount of the arrears was awarded, ( the grant was for £286 ). A payment plan was also put in place for the following year to ensure that the Client did not accrue any further arrears. Ongoing assistance is also being provided through negotiations with the landlord to allow the installation of a water meter, and if cannot be installed, putting her on to the assessed household charge, which would cut the Water bills. The Client also received advice on efficient energy consumption and on reducing fuel bills by switching providers.
Sadly fuelbanks and families have not been able to secure sufficient ongoing sustainable funding for the fuel grant element of their work.