Mentoring in the heart of our communities; a proactive approach for sustainable outcomes

Scotland is a complex patch work of communities, cultures and local economies. Not only has the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak created an increasingly complex fuel poverty challenge in Scotland, but ‘People and Place’ has never been more important meaning the Wise Group’s approach to tackling fuel poverty has never been more relevant. 

The Wise Group is a leading social enterprise, working to lift people out of poverty across Scotland and North East England. Every day we support customers into jobs, help people leaving prison to build a better future, and work to lift people out of fuel poverty. We work with a range of partners across all sections of society to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of thousands of people and families.

Prior to COVID-19, our work with individuals, communities and businesses has proven that mentoring provides the best results in lifting people out of poverty.

Now more than ever we remain convinced of the importance of the home energy advice the Wise Group delivers, at the heart of which lies our mentoring approach.

Because of coronavirus, many people are facing increasing financial pressures, with energy bills estimated to rise by almost £400 a year due to increased energy use during the lockdown. Add to this, higher energy costs that have an impact on people’s finances, coming at a time when many face losing their jobs and livelihoods due to the pandemic. Consider also households not typically used to being fuel poor who for the first time are joining the recovery queue, anxious about what lies ahead.

Wise Group energy advisors are locally based experts, advocating on others’ behalves, for which we know people are grateful, however alongside, in this new landscape, do not underestimate the power also of the team’s trademark commitment and compassion.

In this vein, as well as those who recently find themselves experiencing difficult and anxious times, we cannot and must not forget those within our society who were already struggling. Displacement must be our national ‘watch out’, and the imperative must be on finding solutions that twin track rapid and inclusive recovery. 

In recent years, Wise Group energy advisors have experienced increases in households with pre-payment meters (PPM) that are self-disconnecting from prepaid supplies, or at risk of self-disconnection for a variety of reasons, typically, low household income, the impact of welfare reform, or simply receiving an unexpected bill for a priority debt.

This is a particular concern during COVID-19 as we know disconnection can exacerbate physical and mental health problems.

Recognising that proactive support is particularly important for PPM users, the Wise Group has begun reinvesting funds to create its own discretionary Energy Crisis Fund to enable advisors to top up customers’ energy meters with up to £40 on a case-by-case basis.

To meet new demand, the Wise Group has recently secured additional funding for PPM users who may be at risk of self-disconnection or running out of credit on their meter to make sure they can keep their power on.

Financial support does not however come stand-alone, and for a reason.

Wise Group Director of Strategic Development Alex Warren explained:

“Emergency fuel credit enables advisors to resolve a point of energy crisis but wider energy advice supports the householder to be able to manage their energy use in the future.”

“Mentors provide the glue between individuals and communities and the services they need, leading to a more sustainable outcome and longer term impact.”

Note: This article was published in Energy Action Scotland’s ‘Energy Review’ (Summer 2020 edition)

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