Can Scotland’s poorest families really make a difference to their heating bills with some extra advice and support? Mark Macleod, Stakeholder Relations Officer with Energy Saving Trust. Here he explains why closer working between family support organisations like Home-Start and energy saving advice teams can improve many more people’s lives.

Many of the families working with Home-Start to change their lives for the better are also struggling to keep their homes warm. Low incomes, for people in and out of paid work, can and do drive families to choose between heating and eating. This can have enormous negative impact on children.

As one Home-Start volunteer observed recently, sitting in the dark on a sunny day because the curtains are drawn to keep some warmth from leaking out of large, single-glazed windows is not a life any child should have to live. It is certainly not helping to create the rich home learning environment that Home-Start volunteers know is so vital to a child’s ability to thrive.

Home Energy Scotland is the Scottish Government-funded energy advice network. For families, including those that Home-Start supports, we are only one free phone call away. But we know that making that call is not as easy as it sounds. People who are struggling just to get by or who have lost trust in a system that seems to be letting them down are not always ready to ask for help. That’s why we seek to work in partnership with organisations like Home-Start to help make sure no one misses out on the help we can offer.

In Scotland our advice centre network helps people to:

  • save energy;
  • reduce heating costs;
  • access energy efficiency schemes;
  • maximise their income; and
  • access available support from their energy supplier.

The results can be surprising. One single parent who found it difficult to heat her home benefited hugely thanks to Home Energy Scotland’s advice. She has two young children; one under five, and one with a disability who was frequently in hospital.

She found out about Home Energy Scotland through The Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow. The hospital’s family support team arranged for her to meet Home Energy Scotland’s Community Liaison Officer who carried out a Home Energy Check. This resulted in her being referred to the Warmer Homes Scotland scheme, which helps vulnerable people make their homes warmer and more comfortable through installing energy saving measures.

Following a survey by Warmer Homes Scotland, the family qualified for a free, new gas central heating system, a smoke detector, a carbon monoxide alarm and improvements to their loft insulation. The whole process – from the initial meeting to the completion of the work – took under three months. The outcome has meant energy bills have been reduced and the family’s home is cosier and safer than ever.

By working with organisations like Home-Start more often and in more places we can make sure other families do not miss out on these kinds of opportunities. Our telephone and face-to-face advice can be accessed by Home-Start staff and volunteers with the family’s consent, we also have a referral portal and in some cases we can make home visits.

During the call, our friendly, expert teams collect a range of information so they can offer tailored information to help save money and stay warmer. This could be through energy saving tips, signposting to benefits checks, helping them switch energy suppliers or seeing if they qualify for specific government-funded measures. They can also refer people to partners they work with who can help with other important issues such as home safety visits by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Home Energy Scotland has helped people qualify for free heating and insulation, and saved others more than £1,000 a year.

What next?

  • If you’d like to make use of the online Home Energy Scotland referral portal, then get in touch with Mark Macleod, Home Energy Scotland’s Stakeholder Relations Officer, on 0131 555 9151 or email [email protected]. You can also watch this short film to find out about more about the portal.
  • If you think the families you work with could use some help to keep warm or reduce their fuel bills, get them to call Home Energy Scotland free on 0808 808 2282 from Monday to Fridays, 8am to 8pm, or on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm

Mark Macleod is Stakeholder Relations Officer at Energy Savings Trust.