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Tackling fuel poverty
Bromford are working towards developing a service offer around affordable warmth and fuel poverty. Here Russ Fowler, director of financial reporting and procurement, talks about what's been happening over the last few months.
Fuel poverty is a term that is banded about a lot over winter but now that the (slightly) warmer weather is on its way nobody seems to be talking about it. That’s precisely the reason why we decided to make this our first 12-week ‘Wicked Problem’ back in October 2015. It’s too easy to forget about the problems that the cold weather brings when the sun is shining – but before you know it, spring and summer will be over and we’ll be heading towards another winter.
By taking the issue of affordable warmth into the Bromford Lab, our aim was to develop a clearer offer to our customers around fuel poverty. Recognising that one size definitely does not fit all, the main aim, not surprisingly, was that all customers are able to stay warm and that we would do this by identifying those most at risk and target products and services to provide solutions to them.
It was important that we didn’t make the mistake of thinking that we could solve the problem of fuel poverty. It’s a massive issue and we’d be naive to think that simply developing a service offer will eradicate the problem – so one of the main focuses was to look for simple, quick-wins that would benefit most people.
We know that we have a major responsibility in helping customers living in our homes to stay warm and we are committed to investing in our existing homes to improve their energy efficiency to a D SAP rating or better. We will continue to develop new properties that meet the standards set out in building regulations for energy efficiency, going above and beyond this where possible.
We need to focus on helping some of our most vulnerable customers reduce the risk of having their fuel supply cut off – alongside this we also need to recognise that there are people who may be suffering from long-term health conditions and develop a service offer that makes sure that they get the help needed.
We found that there are many organisations offering help and advice to those suffering with unaffordable fuel costs. We already have relationships with some of these organisations but not all. We’ve decided that the best way to access help for customers is to firstly gather all the information on fuel poverty schemes and grants that’s available. We will then design both digital and traditional content to ensure that all our target audiences can get hold of the information in a way that suits them. We’ll then be asking for feedback on the value of this information with a small number of customers before releasing and promoting to a wider audience.
Another key point to come out of the 12 week Lab session is that all Bromford colleagues should be able to talk about fuel poverty, no matter what team they’re in. This could be front-line colleagues having the awareness to spot the signs of fuel poverty and then having a conversation with the customer about it. Our office-based colleagues, including our leaders, also need to be well informed so that they can update our services to help alleviate fuel poverty. We recognise that there is some work to be done here and we will be developing the relevant training for colleagues over the coming months.
Although all colleagues need to be aware of fuel poverty, we do have a few key roles that we’ll be focusing more of our attention on. Educating colleagues and customers on changing certain behaviours is also key to helping – simple things like budgeting and using heating systems more effectively can really help.
Our money advice service will offer advice to customers to help maximise income and benefits relating to energy and we’ll be building an awareness of fuel poverty into our new ‘starting well engineer’ and ‘coach’ roles. We see engineers as key colleagues to help deliver the messages to our customers as they provide our most visible service. They understand the technicalities of boilers and heating systems, so they are perfectly placed to have the greatest impact by offering preventative advice.
We know that no matter what practical solutions and advice we offer, there are still going to be those customers who will be affected by fuel poverty, so the work we’re doing doesn’t just focus on asset solutions. The 12 week Lab sessions showed that we do have robust plans in place for improved affordable warmth of our homes but there was a significant imbalance between the plans that focus on the asset and the ones focused on the customer. We also found that there was already loads of good work going on across Bromford but the various teams involved didn’t always link up and share their experiences – there’s an opportunity here for us to provide a more consistent offer.
During the 12 weeks, we had some really creative sessions, with loads of great ideas flying around, but when we reviewed them all, it became clear that we needed to decide what help and support would be the most beneficial to customers whilst being simple to offer. Watch this space for updates as we move forward with our plans.