The Trussell Trust and energy supplier npower is today launching the first ever Fuel Bank in Brent. The scheme gives foodbank users with pre-payment meters vouchers for gas or electricity, so they do not have to choose between ‘heating and eating’.
Because the scheme gives people around two weeks’ worth of energy, the value of the voucher will fluctuate between the winter and summer months: from April to the end of October the value will be £30 and this will increase to £49 from 1st November to 31st March.
First launched in April 2015 with The Trussell Trust, National Energy Action (NEA) and Durham Christian Partnership, the npower Fuel Bank™ has so far been trialled in four areas (Kingston on Thames, Durham, Gloucestershire and the Wirral) and is now being rolled out more widely.
Before making the decision to extend the scheme, npower commissioned NEA, the UK fuel poverty charity, to undertake an evaluation of the scheme. In-depth interviews with a sample of people who had been helped by the Fuel Bank found that many were from households with dependent children, while almost a third said someone in their home suffered from ill health or a condition made worse by the cold. The inability to afford adequate power interrupted ordinary family life which in turn exacerbated conditions such as stress and anxiety*.
The scheme is for clients with a valid Brent Foodbank voucher, who could be eligible to receive the credit which they can use to repay emergency credit and top up their gas and electricity meter. This enables households that have run out of energy to get the power back on within a few hours and keep the lights and heating on for around two weeks.
Last year Brent Foodbank, run by The Trussell Trust, helped 2075 people, including around 675 children under 16. 26% of people used the Foodbank due to delays in receiving their benefits, 18% due to benefit changes and 12% were due to having a low income.
Michele Lawrence, manager of Brent Foodbank, said
“We’ve had mothers coming here after doing the school run, to have a bit of warmth, unable to go home because their houses are freezing. People are faced with the choice of buying food or heating their home, some are unable to do either. The Fuel Bank allows us to give that much more immediate help. It’s not just topping up their gas and electric, it’s giving them their dignity back: they’re able to go home and have a hot meal, have a hot shower, as well as heat their homes.”
Guy Esnouf, npower’s Director of Corporate Responsibility said:
“Our first step was to trial the Fuel Bank in four areas last year. This proved the concept works – getting the right support to the people who need it most. We’re now expanding to ten new areas across the UK – including opening Fuel Banks in Wales and Scotland – meaning we can reach thousands more people in crisis.”
Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central said:
“It’s great to see The Trussell Trust and npower Fuel Bank initiative receive the expansion that it truly deserves and I am proud to support it. The impact that the scheme has already had on the lives of so many foodbank users is profound.
“When evidence shows prepayment customers are paying on average £300 a year more than those on direct debit, the link between fuel poverty and prepay meters becomes clear.
“There are over 6,000 fuel poor households in Brent Central and I hope that this service will go some way towards removing that tragic decision which many of them face; whether to heat or eat. I will continue my fight to get a fair price for all customers, please help me to do this by signing my petition.“
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Notes to editors –
*The Fuel Bank Research can be viewed on the NEA website at: www.nea.org.uk/?p=1523
How the npower Fuel Bank works:
The npower Fuel Bank has been designed to utilise the existing food bank referral process.
Individuals who are identified as being in crisis by care professionals, such as Citizens Advice Bureaus, GPs, social workers or police, are issued with a food bank voucher to redeem at their local food bank.
When the individual goes to the food bank with their voucher, if their household is supplied by npower on a prepayment meter (PPM) for electricity and/or gas, they will receive a top-up voucher. As standard customers will be issued a maximum of three vouchers in 6 months, and not receive more than one voucher within 10 days. This is checked by Charis Grants who administer the scheme on npower’s behalf prior to the voucher being issued
npower will provide a Fuel Bank voucher to the client via text message or email or if the client doesn’t have a phone or email account the voucher will be emailed to the foodbank within 24 business hours (vouchers are not issued on weekends or bank holidays). If required the foodbank will then contact the individual via an agreed means to share the voucher.
The client then takes this code to any shop with a PayPoint machine where it can be redeemed against electricity and/or gas using their pre-payment key or card at no cost to the customer. The npower Fuel Banks code can only be used for electricity and gas.
Once the code has been redeemed, when the individual puts the relevant pre-payment key or card in their meter or meters the money will appear as a credit.