Access to Services & Fuel

Better Buses for GM

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Our Buses in Greater Manchester aren’t working

Article written for GMPA by Pascale Robinson

Right now, bus operators can’t be forced to run any service, and they set the fares, but in the next year, we have a huge opportunity to change this wild west scenario.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is deciding now whether to pick a better way of running the bus network, re-regulating it, which puts buses back into public control.

37% of Greater Manchester’s job seekers said that lack of access to transport is a key barrier to getting work, backed up by JRF research in low-income neighbourhoods in Manchester. This is in one of the UK’s biggest and best city regions.

Better Buses campaign for GM Poverty Action

Taking the campaign on to the buses

People from the poorest fifth of households catch nearly 10 times as many buses as trains. For lots of us, without a bus we’re stuck. Across Greater Manchester, many reported that cars and trains are simply out the question in terms of price. However, with buses their last option, they highlighted how expensive fares and unreliable services prevent them from taking up positions, and how the un-joined network can mean commutes of over three hours a day (over Jobcentre Plus’ limit for reasonable travel).

Our bus network is not serving us. Instead people are being locked out of opportunities for work. With re-regulation, or franchising as it’s known, a fully integrated and planned network across GM’s 10 local authorities could connect us to our work places, our loved ones and the services we need at affordable fares, as we see in London.

What does this mean? Re-regulation means companies are told by local authorities what services to run, when, and how to set the fares. It also means local authorities can:

  • Plan and expand the network – Profits from busy routes could subsidise less busy but needed services. Right  now, bus companies cherry pick only profitable routes and make a killing, but local authorities could use profits to give everyone a better service.
  • Make buses affordable – Income could be used to lower fares, which have increased 55% above inflation in the last ten years.
  • Make buses reliable – Bus companies would have to share data – meaning buses don’t disappear from the time table or app.
  • Make buses frequent – Income could also be used to provide evening and weekend services, like we had before.

This would transform buses for a lot of us. Re-regulating in GM would set a precedent across the UK for a bus network that serves people, not profit. We’ve launched a petition calling for re-regulation and it already has over 5,000 signatures, but we want twice as many so please sign and share the petition to join the call for better buses.

Right now, we have a postcode lottery and a poverty premium, with richer areas often getting the better routes and cheaper fares, at least during commuter hours. Public money is used wherever possible, to plug gaps where there is need, however this is an inefficient use of public money. Better Buses for Greater Manchester found that on average £18 million a year is going to shareholder pay outs in the North West region.

Pascale Robinson Better Buses campagin for GM Poverty Action

Pascale Robinson

Re-regulating our bus network would mean that Greater Manchester could have publicly controlled buses which connect communities to where they need to be.

Join the campaign by signing the petition now: www.betterbusesgm.org.uk

We’d also love to hear from you. We need organisations, businesses and groups to pledge their support for the campaign. Whether you can offer your logo to show support, as GMPA have, or your time, or both, we need as many people speaking out for better buses as possible.

To find out more about the campaign, please say hello at Pascale@betterbusesgm.org.uk

 

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Help with your water bill

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Don’t suffer in silence – that’s the message from United Utilities if you’re struggling to pay your water bill.

United Utilities water bill helping hand article for GM Poverty Action“If you’re going through a tough financial patch and are finding it hard to pay your water bill, please get in touch with us on 0800 072 6765. We’re easy to talk to and the sooner you call, the quicker we can get you the right support to prevent you falling further into debt,” says Jane Haymes from United Utilities.

“We’re already helping more than 100,000 customers in this way so it’s well worth picking up the phone.”

One scheme, called Payment Matching Plus, promises to make you debt free within two years.

Jane adds “If you’ve built up a lot of debt, our Payment Matching Plus scheme will get you back on track. For every £1 you pay we’ll put in £1 too and after six months we’ll increase our contribution to £2. We’ll then clear any remaining debt if you continue to make regular payments for two years.”

If you’re receiving Pension Credit and struggling to make payments, you can apply to United Utilities for their Help to Pay scheme. This caps your bill at a reduced amount based on your income and outgoings.

If you’re struggling to make water bill payments due to losing your job or having to pay out for an unexpected emergency, the company’s Payment Break scheme can help by delaying your payments for an agreed period. Any delayed payments are then spread over a longer period of time.

United Utilities can also help if you’re applying for Universal Credit by delaying your water bill payments for up to eight weeks while you wait for your first UC payment to arrive.

Jane also commented “If your home has more bedrooms than people, it’s also worth considering a water meter as it’s one of the easiest ways to make a big saving on your bill. We fit them for free and you can even switch back to your old bill within two years if for whatever reason you’re not making a saving.”

The United Utilities affordability team can be contacted on 0800 072 6765.

You can find more information about all of the company’s schemes on their website. A form is also available on this webpage for customers who would prefer to submit their details online rather than calling and United Utilities’ affordability team will give you a call back.

GMPA has been working to shine a light on different types of non-statutory support available to people on low incomes. We regularly feature different organisations working to support people experiencing poverty across Greater Manchester in our newsletter and our maps detail different types of support across the city region. If you’d like to feature in our newsletter please get in touch.

 

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Warm Homes Fund

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New scheme offers free central heating for local residents

500 homes across Greater Manchester will get a new central heating system fitted for free thanks to the Warm Homes Fund. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has secured £1.8 million from a national fund £150 million established by National Grid and administered by Affordable Warmth Solutions. It offers a helping hand to households in fuel poverty or vulnerable to the cold as
modern central heating offers greater warmth and lower bills than old electric heaters or solid fuel fires.

To be eligible for the Warm Homes Fund scheme a household must:

• Qualify for one of the affordable warmth schemes in Greater Manchester (see below for details) and receive a home visit from a trained energy advisor

• Never have had central heating before (i.e. it currently has electric storage heaters, room heaters or open fires)

• Live in a property that is suitable for the safe and economical installation and operation of a central heating system.

Both homeowners and tenants are eligible, subject to a landlord’s permission.

The scheme covers the cost of everything that’s required: the boiler, radiators and pipework. Eligible households won’t have to contribute anything towards the cost.  Where necessary we will also seek to support a household to get connected to the mains gas grid.

The affordable warmth visit will also provide advice on saving energy, switching energy tariffs, install small energy saving measures and identify any other opportunities for a household to reduce their bills, such as insulation and income maximisation.   The scheme is being managed by AgilityEco on behalf of the Greater Manchester authorities. The systems are being installed by Engie, formerly Keepmoat Regeneration.

How to apply

To apply for yourself or for someone else please contact the relevant affordable warmth scheme for your area. They will arrange a home visit and check whether you are eligible for the Warm Homes Fund. The contact details are as follows:

Bolton:  Bolton Care 01204 328178 website
Oldham: Warm Homes Oldham 0800 019 1084  website
Wigan:  Awarm Plus  01942 239360  website
All other areas:  LEAP  0800 0607567  website

If you are an organisation or landlord and would like more information about how the scheme can benefit your clients or tenants, please contact James Sommerville

 

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Access to Justice

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Struggling families disqualified from justice despite Supreme Court verdict


This was the headline for an article published by the Law Society last week. “Poverty-hit families are being denied vital help to fight eviction, tackle severe housing disrepair and address other life-changing legal issues, the Law Society of England and Wales revealed today.”

The article went on to report that last year the Supreme Court declared employment tribunal fees unlawful for households on low income because of the sacrifices they would have to make to be able to afford legal costs.

The Law Society president Joe Egan said: “No-one in modern society should have to choose between accessing the justice system and a minimum living standard.  The financial eligibility test for civil legal aid is disqualifying people from receiving badly-needed legal advice and representation, even though they are already below the poverty line.”

He was speaking on the publication of a new report commissioned by the Law Society and produced by Professor Donald Hirsch of Loughborough University.

Professor Hirsch said: “Millions of households in Britain today struggle to make ends meet, even when they include someone in work, often because of part-time, low-wage or irregular earnings. Yet in general, the legal aid system requires working people to pay their legal costs, either in full or by making a contribution that low earners would find hard or impossible to afford. Those who are out of work are generally covered by legal aid but may be excluded if they own their homes. The assumption that someone could sell their home to cover a legal bill is out of line with other forms of state means-testing – such as help with care costs, where the value of your home is ignored if you or your partner still live in it.”

The Law Society is asking the government to restore the means test to its 2010 real-terms level, and to conduct a review to consider what further changes are required to address the problems exposed by this report.

Read the full report

 

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Fuel Poverty Awareness

Victoria Egerton leads on Research & Campaigns at Citizens Advice Manchester and is a member of GMPA’s Fuel Poverty Special interest Group. This article outlines some of the issues behind Fuel Poverty, the support that people need, and invites you to a morning of training and discussion on Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, 23rd February 2018.

With the rollout of Universal Credit, low wages and zero hour contracts, the freeze on working age benefits, inflation, high energy costs and energy inefficient homes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to afford to adequately heat their homes.

Fuel Poverty Awareness Day is a national day to raise awareness of the impact of fuel poverty.

In December 2017 alone our energy advice team at Citizens Advice Manchester advised 118 clients on 562 issues. We regularly support people that are unable to afford to top up their pre-payment meters, have exacerbated health problems due to cold homes and those that are having to choose between eating and heating their homes.


Working together to reduce fuel poverty in Greater Manchester

As part of our delivery on the Big Energy Saving Network Campaign we are inviting front line workers and volunteers from across Greater Manchester to join us for a fuel poverty awareness training event on February 23rd 2018. We will raise awareness of key issues and discuss how we can work together to reduce fuel poverty in Greater Manchester.

The event will include:

• Training on energy efficiency, payment methods, discounts and tariffs, switching supplier, SMART meters, dealing with energy debt and ensuring advice is holistic

Discussions and debates on key issues: Self disconnection of pre-payment meters, heating or eating

•  Ask the adviser Q and A

•  Working together to reduce fuel poverty in Greater Manchester

You can book your place here

Big Energy Saving Week

During Big Energy Saving Week we campaigned across Manchester at supermarkets, shopping centres and hospitals to help people check, switch and save: check that they are on the best deal, switch supplier and save money on their energy bills. It was a great way to reduce fuel poverty and raise awareness of the support available with energy arrears.

To make a referral to our energy team for energy arrears you can either send an email or call 01616721234.

For more information on our research and campaigns work contact Victoria Egerton

 

Fuel poverty in England is measured using the Low Income High Costs (LIHC) indicator. Under the LIHC indicator, a household is considered to be fuel poor if they have required fuel costs that are above average (the national median level) or were they to spend that amount, they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line.

According to the Government’s Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report 2017, in 2015, the proportion of households in fuel poverty in England was estimated at 11% (approx. 2.5 million households). This is an increase of 0.4 per cent from 2014.

The level of fuel poverty is highest in the private rented sector (21.3 % of households) compared to those in owner occupied properties (7.4%). Those in the private rented sector also tend to be deeper in fuel poverty, with an average fuel poverty gap of £410, compared to £175 for those in local authority housing.

When considering household composition, those living in ‘multi-person (adult) households’ are deepest in fuel poverty with an average fuel poverty gap of £493 compared to a single person under 60 (£227). However, the highest prevalence of fuel poverty is seen for lone parents with dependent child(ren) (23.6%).   More information

 

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Tackling Fuel Poverty

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Tackling fuel poverty across Greater Manchester

GMPA Fuel poverty special interest group logo for GM Poverty Action websiteElectricity North West, the region’s power network operator, is represented by Jonathan Collins in GMPA’s Fuel Poverty Special Interest Group. Here, his colleague Lauren Webb writes about their work with Energy Saving Trust and the development of a referral network to provide support for fuel poor households in Greater Manchester.

Electricity North West has collaborated with Energy Saving Trust to investigate the ways in which they can help tackle fuel poverty in the region. The aim of the project, which originated from a recent stakeholder advisory panel, was to gain a vital understanding of fuel poverty at a local, regional, and national level, including identifying households living in fuel poverty, government programmes, and local authority schemes.

With this insight in mind, Energy Saving Trust has developed a series of options which can be implemented by Electricity North West. These options included developing a referral network which would provide customers with energy saving advice and welfare and debt advice as well as provide customers with funding for energy efficiency improvements for their homes, including cavity wall and loft insulation. Energy Saving Trust also suggested working closely with the Government to develop future fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes.

The main findings of the research were:

  • Within Electricity North West’s operating region, 50% of fuel poor households live within the Greater Manchester area.
  • Within the Manchester City Council area 15% of households are defined as fuel poor.
  • There is an urban/rural spilt in the reasons for fuel poverty. In urban areas, such as Greater Manchester, the main reason for fuel poverty is low income where as in more rural areas, such as Kendal, the reason is the size and age of homes which are harder to heat.
  • Government and Local Authority fuel poverty schemes are often limited  to households who are either elderly, on benefits or on a low income.
  • Future Government policy such as the Industrial Strategy, Emissions Reductions Plan, Energy Company Obligation 3 and the roll out of smart meters will help tackle some of the issues related to fuel poverty, however the potential outcomes for customers are unknown.
  • Other distribution network operators deliver two types of schemes:
  • Community investment funds for community groups to deliver energy efficiency schemes.
  • Referral networks where customers are given advice and support on fuel poverty issues including energy saving advice and welfare and debt advice.

A recent YouGov study commissioned by Electricity North West supports this research. The study revealed that:

  • Within the Greater Manchester area 12% of people surveyed felt they could not heat their homes adequately.
  • Of this 12%, 55% said that the reason for this was that they could not afford their energy bills.
  • 21% of respondents living in the Manchester City Council area felt they could not heat their homes adequately. This is a 6% difference compared to Energy Saving Trust’s findings which may be due to peoples’ perception versus the Government definition.

The Government defines fuel poor households as those living below the poverty line whilst having fuel costs above the average (median) in order to heat and light their home adequately.

Energy efficiency is one way that can alleviate fuel poverty. The research highlights that ‘improvements to energy efficiency provides long term protection against fuel poverty, as they shield the household from changes in fuel prices and income’. However, according to the YouGov study 71% of respondents within the Greater Manchester area have not previously sought energy saving advice.

Energy Saving Trust states within its report that previous energy efficiency and fuel poverty alleviation programmes have varied across different local authority areas having different levels of success. These schemes have often been stop-start in nature where there is an increase in activity to meet funding requirements which is then followed by a fall in activity as funding for schemes have ended. This has made it difficult for customers, supply chain and other organisations to know the best option available for customers.

Energy Saving Trust believes that a distribution network operator-led programme could offer a level of coordination to make best use of existing local, regional and national funding and schemes. It could also provide greater consistency and stability to the delivery of fuel poverty programmes. Electricity North West is currently working with Energy Saving Trust in the development of a referral network to provide support for fuel poor households living in our region.

More information about Electricity North West      More information about the Energy Saving Trust

 

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Fighting Fuel Poverty on the Front Line with Naila

Naila Ilyas is a member of GMPA’s Fuel Poverty Special interest Group. She works as an energy adviser for Northwards Housing, a social landlord managing council homes in some of Manchester’s most deprived areas. This article profiles Naila’s work, which over the last three years has helped 700 North Manchester residents to save a total of £108,000 on their fuel payments.

Marilia lives in Blackley and was struggling with expensive energy bills and water rates. Marilia is on a low income and has two small children to provide for but now she saves over £500 a year on her energy bills and a reduction in her water rates from £40 to £25 per month. Marilia hadn’t understood exactly how much her water bill should be, so she kept paying the higher rate without question.

Naila carried out a price comparison to find her a cheaper energy supplier and has given Marilia an energy monitor so that she can keep a closer eye on her energy use.

Also living in Blackley is Sharon who is disabled and lives on her own. Severe arthritis makes it very difficult for Sharon to turn on her fire.  She had tried to avoid having to turn it on frequently by leaving the thermostat set quite high which left her with very steep gas bills. Add to that the £10.50 each week that she was paying for ‘Bedroom Tax’ and Sharon’s financial situation was unmanageable.

Naila helped Sharon change to a cheaper energy supplier, saved her over £100 by switching to a water meter, applied on her behalf for a Warm Home Discount, and in total saved Sharon £487 a year. Now she can stay in her home as she can now afford to pay that extra tax.

Naila Ilyas from Northwards Housing - fuel Poverty article for GM Poverty Action

Naila Ilyas

In addition to face-to-face advice for residents, Naila trains others so that she can reach more people with her energy and money saving expertise. Members of the public become ‘energy champions’ – volunteers who provide energy advice to their local community. She also delivered ‘carbon literacy training’ to all 320 Northwards staff in 2016.  Its a comprehensive course, equipping participants with the knowledge to shrink their own carbon footprint and then share the information with tenants to help make a big money-saving difference in their own lives.

Naila said: “It is really rewarding to see so many people reducing their fuel bills. A lot of people still hesitate to switch suppliers and are also unaware of the grants or tariffs that can save them a lot of money, so energy advice is really important in tackling fuel poverty.”

Find out more about Northwards Housing

 

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Fuel Special Interest Group

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GMPA’s network is continuing to grow, with increasing numbers of charitable organisations, community groups, as well as councillors and council officers from the ten boroughs, health and social care professionals, those working in higher education and members of the general public. GMPA has brought together specialists to consider how we might take joint action on poverty. We are working on establishing 4 Special Interest Groups over 2016-17: Food Poverty, Fuel Poverty, Work and Wages and Health Inequalities.  Group members will be drawn from different parts of Greater Manchester and different sectors of the network.

In August, the first meeting of the Fuel Poverty Special Interest Group was held. Membership of the group is as follows:

Conor Hartnett, Letitia Rose and Andy Marsh – community activists; Suzanne Barningham, Energyworks Manager, Groundwork Rochdale; ; Jo Boswell, Energy Advice Manager, Citizens Advice Manchester; Jonathan Collins, Stakeholder and CSR Manager, Electricity North West;  Isabel Farnell, Project Development Manager, National Energy Agency;  Tina Gandhi, Principal Environmental
Strategy Officer, GM Environment Team, New Economy Manchester; Naila Ilyas, Energy Advisor, Strategic Property Projects Team, Northwards Housing Association; Dr. Graeme Sherriff, Salford Housing and Urban Studies Unit, University of Salford and James Sommerville, Principal Housing Energy Officer, Oldham Council;

The August meeting was opened with three presentations from the community activists about topics core to the fuel poverty agenda: Refurbishment and Energy Efficiency; Prepayment Meters; and Managing and Practicality. The perspectives of those in the community set the scene for introductory discussions. We considered how technology can support fuel poor residents and examined wider behavioural change issues associated with fuel poverty. We discussed ongoing and planned GM initiatives and how the group could support those to raise their profile, and focused on creating joined up interventions across the many agencies working on this topic.

The deliverables and outputs from the fuel poverty group will be shaped as the year goes ahead, but we have planned four further meetings covering the following topics:

Energy Efficiency and the Environment (November 2016);
Prepayment meters and bills (February 2017);
Fuel Poverty and the elderly and BME communities (April 2017);
Fuel poverty numbers across Greater Manchester (July 2017).

GM Poverty Action will produce written content after each meeting examining the scope of that issue across GM, with the group contributing advice and guidance to shape the outputs. We look forward to the ongoing work, and thank the Special Interest Group members for their contribution.

 

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Tackling Fuel Poverty

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This article was first published in 2014

With over one million families in England struggling to pay their fuel bills, action to help those in fuel poverty has never been more urgent.

One in six English families with children are in fuel poverty according to the latest figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change. The number has never been so high, with the amount of affected families now standing at 1,027,000. Among the communities of north Manchester, where Northwards Housing manages 13,500 properties, one in five tenants face fuel poverty this winter.

“One of the worst cases I’ve come across was probably a pensioner whose disability prevented her from bending down to top-up her pre-payment gas meter,” said Naila Ilyas, Northwards’ energy advisor.
Every-tenant-Naila-visits-receives-a-free-energy-monitor-300x200Naila visits Northwards tenants in their homes to give them the help and advice they need to start slashing their fuel bills and energy use. “I spoke with her gas supplier and came up with a new payment plan so that the repayments were much more affordable,” she said. “I also helped her to switch provider – she now saves around £48 a year on her energy bills, and the supplier installed a smart meter at a much higher level so that she no longer has to bend down. In fact, she doesn’t have to touch it at all, because she can pay by text instead.”“She has severe arthritis and the meter was just too low for her. She also didn’t know that she could just switch her energy provider – she thought that she would need permission from her current supplier, and that they wouldn’t allow her to change. As a result of all this, she ended up owing around £800 in gas arrears.”

Directly helping tenants to switch to cheaper fuel tariffs and make small changes to their energy use can have a significant effect. “The biggest single saving I’ve made for a tenant was about £800,” said Naila. “She had a large family, so they were using a lot of energy, but it was clear to see there were lots of ways she could bring her bills down. The savings add up very quickly: I helped her apply for the government’s warm home discount, which is worth £140, and by changing her energy supplier, she was due to save £230 on her bills. Then through changing the way she did things around the house, she was able to save even more, like washing clothes at 30 degrees rather than 40, which saves you £50 a year.”

Energy monitors play a big part in helping Naila to instantly pinpoint places around the home a tenant is using more electricity than they need. Once attached to the mains, the device – which is given for free to each tenant – provides real-time data on how much energy is being consumed, allowing the user to turn off appliances and see how much electricity each one uses.

“The monitor makes it easy to spot spikes in energy use, and also show how small changes in behaviour – like turning your TVs and game consoles off rather than leaving them on standby – can make a significant difference to how much you’re using.

These visits are important because lots of people simply don’t know the facts. Lots of tenants don’t have things like energy saving lightbulbs, for instance, because no one’s told them it can save them 80% on their energy bills. They don’t know about schemes like the Warm Home Discount because it’s not widely publicised.”

The difference this kind of face-to-face contact can make is considerable. So far, Northwards Housing has engaged with 231 individuals, saving them £53,534 in total through behavioural change advice, grants and helping them to switch providers.

Some tenants have also made further savings after Northwards helped them to switch to a water meter, saving two million litres of water in the process. Together with the amount of energy saved as a result of the landlord’s engagement work, Northwards has saved 85 metric tons of carbon

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What is fuel poverty?

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This article was first published in 2014

A household is in fuel poverty if they have fuel costs that are above the national median level and that, if they were to spend that amount, they would be left with an income below the official poverty line. Across Greater Manchester, 1 in 5 households are classed being in fuel poverty – and the numbers are growing. At a national level, 3.2 million people are currently ‘fuel-poor’ and during last winter’s freezing weather, 10,000 deaths are estimated to having been linked to cold homes.

Difficulty in meeting gas and electricity bills can have a knock-on effect on other forms of deprivation such as income poverty, child poverty, and food poverty.  Cold, damp housing increases the prevalence of respiratory diseases, cardio-vascular problems, strokes and excess winter deaths. These conditions are proven to adversely affect infant weight gain and to cause mental health issues in adults and adolescents. Such housing also drives associated issues, such as worklessness and an increased demand for public services and welfare support.

Testimonies to the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission highlight the impossible choices faced by those trapped by fuel poverty.  Some of those giving evidence described the decision they face between spending money on heating or eating.

Rising fuel prices, the changing welfare reform landscape and public sector cutbacks are expected to impact on the numbers of households experiencing fuel poverty.

Across Greater Manchester there are a number of schemes to assist householders with high energy costs. These include:

  • The Greater Manchester Energy Switching Scheme which brings together domestic energy consumers who want to switch providers. Two energy ‘auctions’ have taken place to date, more information on this can be found here: http://gmfairenergy.ichoosr.com/Product/index.rails?actionId=284
  • The Get Me Toasty Greater Manchester energy advice service http://www.getmetoasty.com/ is currently advising on energy and home improvement initiatives for householders who meet certain criteria across Greater Manchester.

Mr-Toast-05-212x300In addition there are projects specifically designed to target fuel poverty. Among these is the Affordable Warmth Access Referral Mechanism (AWARM).  Available in Wigan, the scheme aims to reduce health inequalities in vulnerable households, reduce excess winter deaths and increase energy efficiency in order to enhance health and sustainability.  The project enables health professionals (for example health trainers, nurses and Local Government Central Duty Teams and Social Housing Providers) to provide a one-stop shop referral for those living in fuel poverty in terms of accessing available grants and advice.

The Greater Manchester Poverty Action Group is currently seeking to promote existing energy initiatives and provide support to new and emerging projects which address fuel poverty.

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