Southampton Healthy Homes: Sophia’s Story

About the client

Sophia is a private tenant who moved here from overseas a number of years ago with her three older children. She earns little money as a cleaner but does not receive any benefits. Ever since she moved into the flat, she’s been trying to sort out a leak where the water meter was installed, just outside her home.  She got in touch with Citizens Advice Southampton who advised her to contact us about her water bills.

What did Sophia need help with?

Sophia pays her water bills by monthly direct debit but had recently stopped the payments because of an unusually high bill. The water bills had been causing her distress and frustration ever since she moved into the property. Although engineers from the water company had visited numerous times, water continued to escape. We booked an office appointment for Sophia to see if we could get to the bottom of this leaky problem.

How we were able to help Sophia

Sophia’s daughter joined her at the office appointment to help with translations. Speaking to the client and sifting through her water bills, it became apparent that Sophia was dealing with a persistent leak. Any time a meter reading was taken – generally once a year – the bills would spike because of the discharge around the water meter box. An engineer from the water company would be called out, tinker with the pipes and fittings, then close the case. The bill would be reissued with a leakage allowance applied for that year, and the company would produce a best guess of the household’s water use. This happened on three occasions – once for every year that Sophia was in the property.

As the leak was the water company’s responsibility, we called them to find out if it could be permanently fixed. Engineers had been in just a couple of weeks prior and the customer service representative assured us that the latest work, which involved replacing the stopcock, had solved the problem. Sophia had not seen the water meter since the engineers had been out and had no way of verifying that statement at the time. The water company suggested she perform a Tap Test to see for herself that the leak had stopped; if the meter was still spinning 20 minutes after the water was turned off, Sophia would need to call the water company again to report the leak. After speaking with the water company, Sophia agreed to have her direct debit reinstated with her bills reduced to reflect a lower estimated usage.

Savings and outcomes

  • Sophia’s water bills now reflect a lower household water consumption rate, reducing her bills by about £30/month.
  • By speaking to the water company, we were also able to cancel the £45 debt collection fee.
  • In addition, the water company added £50 to the account as a goodwill gesture.

“The advisor’s service was exemplary, she is very professional, kind, patient and knew how to handle the problem perfectly.”

Get in touch

If you have a family member, friend or neighbour who could benefit from our help, please call the Environment Centre (tEC) on Freephone 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) or email keepwarm@environmentcentre.com to speak to an advisor.

Hitting the Cold Spots Winter Launch 2018

Now in its eighth year, Hitting the Cold Spots continues to help Hampshire residents stay warm and well. Being able to keep warm is vital for everyone but particularly for young children, older people and those with health conditions.

With the onset of colder weather you may be getting concerned about how you will manage in the winter months, but Hitting the Cold Spots is here to help with advice and practical support. You can contact us directly and we also welcome referrals from friends, family and professionals. Hitting the Cold Spots is run by the Environment Centre (tEC) on behalf of Hampshire County Council.

How can we help?
The service provides detailed advice over the phone or via email for anyone wanting information on: heating systems, insulation, energy bill worries, the Warm Home Discount and switching tariff.

We offer additional practical support for eligible owner-occupier households including: home visits from our experienced advisors, help to access funding for boiler repairs and replacements, temporary heaters for those without heating and referrals for benefits and debt advice, home safety visits and healthy living services.

How can you contact us?
You can speak to the Hitting the Cold Spots team via our Freephone advice line 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm), dedicated email account: staywarm@environmentcentre.com or at community events across the county.

If you would like us to give a talk to your community group, train your staff and volunteers or send copies of our promotional materials, please let us know. Find out more and view resources on our website: www.environmentcentre.com/projects/hitting-the-cold-spots and www.hants.gov.uk/coldspots

Please note the above services are subject to availability and conditions may apply. Hitting the Cold Spots is funded by Hampshire County Council.

Southampton Healthy Homes Winter Launch 2018

Today we had the winter launch for our Southampton Healthy Homes service, in partnership with Southampton City Council. Organisations from across the city attended to find out more about the project, including our Advice in Southampton partners: Citizens Advice Southampton, No Limits, Age UK Southampton, CLEAR, EU Welcome and Rose Road Association.

Councillor Satvir Kaur and Dr Debbie Chase, from Public Health, kindly opened the event speaking about the impact of living in a cold home and the importance of keeping warm and well. During the breakout session we had very useful discussions on engaging with local communities, supporting vulnerable clients and overcoming barriers to accessing services. The feedback from these sessions will help us ensure we are best meeting the needs of our clients and local residents.

Southampton Healthy Homes provides information, advice and guidance to residents on how to keep warm and well at home. This includes switching tariffs, help to apply for the Warm Home Discount or deal with fuel debt, benefit checks, support to apply for insulation or heating improvements grants and free draught proofing materials. In addition temporary heating will be available to households where their heating has failed.

You can access the project via a free phone advice line, dedicated email account or find us at community events across the city. More in-depth support will be available through home visits and office appointments. If you would like us to give a talk to your community group, train your staff and volunteers or send copies of our promotional materials, please let us know.

Find out more and get advice by Freephone: 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm), email: keepwarm@environmentcentre.com or online: www.environmentcentre.com/healthy-homes

Brace Yourself. Winter Is Coming.

The summer’s scorching heatwave seems to have wiped freezing temperatures from our minds. But the brutally cold Beast from the East from earlier this year could make a return – possibly as early as this month! Though nothing is certain, it’s best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. So here are some of our toasty tips to make your winter a touch warmer:

Snug as a bug in a rug

  1. Layer up: be it clothing or blankets, warm air gets trapped between the layers, helping you stay warm.
  2. Drink hot beverages: tea, coffee, hot chocolate or even broth will warm you from the inside out.
  3. Keep cosy with slippers: not only will they keep your feet warm, they can keep you safer around your home by improving grip while also saving your socks from excessive wear-and-tear.
  4. Change your covers: look for a duvet with a high tog rating (1 tog is the coolest, 15 tog is the warmest).
  5. Use a hot water bottle or microwaveable heating pad: place it under the covers before you hop into bed or keep it on your lap for more concentrated heat.
  6. Snuggle a loved one – don’t forget about Fluffy or Spot!

Trap the heat

  1. Open your curtains when the sun comes out to soak up the radiant heat, but make sure to close them at dusk to stop the heat from escaping when the temperatures start to drop.
  2. Double your drapes: adding a second layer of heavy fabric to your curtains is a great way to reduce the amount of heat that’s lost through your windows.
  3. Wrap your windows: consider secondary glazing if you have single pane windows. All you need is the film, a hair dryer and a pair of scissors.
  4. Detect the draughts: find and seal any gaps under your doors and around your windows, keyholes and letterboxes and unused chimneys.
  5. Insulate your home: 25% of heat can be lost from an uninsulated roof! So consider loft insulation (300mm recommended) to slow that heat loss.

Get more out of the heat

  1. Be reflective: add reflective radiator panels to bounce heat away from the wall and into the room.
  2. Radiator care: if your gas central heating isn’t providing enough warmth, try bleeding your radiators to release trapped air or, if you notice the fluid is brown or the heating is noisy, flush the system to get rid of gunk and allow the heat to distribute more efficiently.
  3. Remove obstructions: reposition your sofa or other furniture away from radiators to feel the full effect of the heat from the radiators.
  4. Cook at home: not only will you get a hot meal, you can also use the residual heat from cooking to warm your home.
  5. Control your heating: timers, thermostats and TRVs can help you schedule your heating needs, heat only the rooms you use and keep your home at a suitable temperature – all while saving you money on your heating bills.

Still cold?

  1. Keep moving: put away laundry, do the washing up or run around to raise your body temperature.
  2. Be sociable: visit friends, family, a faith organisation or a local community centre to take advantage of the central heating instead of staying in a cold home.
  3. Broken boiler? Confusing heating controls? Expensive heating bills? Call us for free advice and information tailored to suit your situation.

Hitting the Cold Spots: Joan’s Story

About the client

Joan is an owner occupier who lives on her own and is in receipt of means tested benefits. She’s in her early 60s and has respiratory illnesses, osteoarthritis and mental health conditions. Joan had had a new gas meter installed and the engineer struggled to re-light the pilot light. The boiler was approximately 35 years old and Joan was concerned about it breaking. Joan was given our details by her local Citizens Advice Bureau and called us to see if we could help her get the boiler replaced.

What did Joan need help with?

During the initial phone call, Joan explained she hadn’t been feeling too well in the home with headaches and dizziness. The advisor was concerned as the symptoms were similar to those caused by a carbon monoxide leak. The advisor gave Joan the National Gas Emergency number and advised her to switch the gas appliances off, open all of the windows and doors and leave the property. An engineer visited and switched the gas off due to potential carbon monoxide and gas leaks, and she was left with no working boiler or hob. The advisor booked a home visit to help apply for local funding and also offered emergency heating.

How we were able to help Joan

We helped Joan contact a local heating company with access to Energy Company Obligation funding and then apply for the shortfall from the Hitting the Cold Spots fund. The new boiler was fully funded for Joan and she now has working, safe heating and hot water for this winter.

During the visit the advisor also discussed discounts she was eligible for through her water supplier and helped her apply for the Warm Home Discount. The advisor also noticed Joan had no working smoke alarms and with her agreement referred her to the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service for a Safe and Well visit.

Savings and outcomes

  • The grants for the boiler from the Energy Company Obligation and Hitting the Cold Spots totalled £3,400.
  • The replacement boiler has improved Joan’s wellbeing as it means she has reliable, safe working heating.
  • The advisor also helped Joan apply for £140 towards her electricity through the Warm Home Discount.

“Taken a huge weight off my shoulders. Very helpful and reassuring.”

Get in touch

If you know someone who needs help with their broken heating, please call the Hitting the Cold Spots team on Freephone 0800 804 8601 or email: staywarm@environmentcentre.com

Energy Company Obligation (ECO3)

The current ECO2t scheme ended on the 30th September, and an adapted ECO3 scheme will run from 1st October 2018 to 31st March 2022.  Here is a summary of the public consultation and government response on the changes to ECO, which are available here. The biggest change to the scheme is that the full focus of funding will be on Affordable Warmth, for low income and vulnerable households, to help the Government meet their fuel poverty commitments. This means that there will be household eligibility criteria for all measures, and these have also been updated.

Another change to the scheme is that the supplier obligation threshold will decrease over this time, to 200,000 customers from April 2019 and to 150,000 customers from April 2020, so more suppliers will need to provide ECO funding. With the introduction of Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) in April 2018, the ECO scheme has been updated so that landlords can’t use ECO to meet minimum standards, apart from the hard to treat measures of solid wall insulation and renewable heating.

The Local Authority Flexible Eligibility (ECO Flex) element of Affordable Warmth, which was introduced with ECO2t in April 2017, will continue with the percentage of obligation available rising from 10% to 25%. Deemed scores, which were also introduced with ECO2t apart from for district heating, will continue to be set by Ofgem, although the 30% uplift to all scores is removed.

Eligibility criteria

  • Means-tested benefits (see below) as before
  • There are no longer income thresholds for Universal Credit and Tax Credits
  • Disability Benefits (see below) are now eligible
  • Child Benefits and Armed Forces Benefits (see below) are also eligible, with equivalised income threshold*, and self-declaration*
DWP means-tested benefits DWP Disability Benefits Armed Forces Benefits
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income Support (IS)
  • Pension Guarantee Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Attendance Allowance (AA)
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits
  • War Pensions Mobility Supplement
  • Constant Attendance Allowance
  • Armed Forces Independence Payment

Energy efficiency measures

As well as changes to eligibility, ECO3 also includes changes to measures delivered. Broken heating system repairs or replacements will be capped at 35,000 systems per year, though other heating upgrades (including heating controls) are allowed to be delivered outside of the cap, and the repair of boilers and broken electric storage heaters will be limited to 5% of each of the supplier’s obligations. There will be a 400% uplift for replacing broken boilers and 240% uplift for broken storage heaters. Solid wall insulation installs will be capped at 17,000 homes per year.

To protect rural households, the Government will require suppliers to meet at least 15% of their obligation by delivering measures in rural areas, broken oil boilers are allowed to be repaired or replaced and there will be a 35% off-gas uplift for insulation measures. Ground source heat pumps are an eligible ECO measure even if they receive the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), as long as obligated energy suppliers do not receive the RHI payments, but other technologies are not eligible if receiving RHI. In addition, up to 10% of a supplier’s obligation can be met through innovation* and up to 10% can be met through in-situ performance*.

Measures allowed in privately owned housing:

  • Insulation
  • Broken heating repairs and replacements (doesn’t include coal, but does include oil)
  • First time central heating (doesn’t include oil, and if replacing electric storage heaters these must be broken or inefficient)
  • Inefficient heating replacements (doesn’t include coal and oil), alongside certain insulation measures (wall insulation, Room in Roof insulation, flat roof insulation, insulation of a mobile home and under floor insulation, but not loft insulation)
  • Efficient heating replacements if replaced by renewables
  • District heating

Measures allowed in social housing:

  • E, F and G rated properties are eligible for insulation and first time central heating (doesn’t include oil, and if replacing electric storage heaters these must be broken or inefficient) but no other heating repairs or replacements
  • Prior insulation requirements will continue to apply where the FTCH is a district heating connection
  • Innovation measures will be eligible for D-G rated properties

Measures allowed in privately rented housing:

  • Tenants need to meet Affordable Warmth eligibility criteria
  • A-E rated properties are eligible for the same measures as privately owned properties (insulation, first time central heating, inefficient heating replacements, efficient heating replaced by renewables and district heating) apart from broken heating repairs and replacements, as this is the responsibility of the landlord
  • Properties that do not meet the minimum standard i.e. F and G rated properties are not eligible for grants for most measures, apart from solid wall insulation and renewable heating systems
  • Green Deal loans are available to landlords looking to improve the energy efficiency of their properties to meet minimum standards, from the Green Deal Finance Company

ECO Flex

Up to 25% of the supplier obligation can be met through measures delivered under Local Authority ECO Flex, and there is a 25% uplift on measures delivered to F and G rated properties.

Solid wall insulation in-fill

  • This will remain largely the same as under ECO2t
  • Under Affordable Warmth, in-fill for SWI and district heating is available if 66% of eligible households receive either of these measures. If so, an adjacent property can also receive the same measure, as long as the number of these ‘in-fill’ properties does not exceed 34% in that area
  • Under ECO Flex, in-fill is allowed to count for up to 50% of the eligible households, so that local authorities can manage residents’ expectations and avoid situations where a decision could be perceived as inequitable, for example if one household doesn’t receive a measure due to them not living adjacent to an eligible household

*Guidance documents are due to be published with a further explanation of these elements.

No Idling Campaign 2018

Working with partners Southampton City Council and Global Action Plan (GAP) we organised and delivered no-idling events across Southampton between February and September. We had a supportive response to the campaign and our experiences of engaging with drivers on the street were positive and effective.

We ran events in the city centre, outside schools, with bus drivers, and at the port and ferry terminal. In total we achieved:

  • 45 Air Quality Champions trained and supported
  • 275 drivers engaged
  • 89.8% of drivers switched off their engines
  • 105 pledges to not idle in the future
  • 190 promotional materials distributed to the public
  • social media posts reached 60,265 and had 2,067 engagements
  • campaign advertised on local radio, TV and newspapers
  • 4 billboards over 8 weeks, as well as poster boards and electronic road signs

Air Quality Champions were fully trained in approaching and chatting to drivers in a friendly, informative and non-judgmental way to persuade them of the benefits of not idling. Our approach was to invite drivers to join the campaign and switch off their engines when stationary, as many drivers do not realise that idling is bad for air pollution and their health, and often believe some common idling myths. Several drivers mentioned having seen posters about the campaign and hearing about it on the radio too.

For more information and to register your interest in becoming an Air Quality Champion, please email cleanair@environmentcentre.com. We can then let you know about upcoming dates for training and events.

No-Idling myth-busting

  • Idling is a significant contributor to local air pollution. It is less polluting to turn your engine off and restart it after a minute or longer than to leave your engine running.
  • Modern batteries need less engine running time to work and don’t need the engine on constantly to keep them charged.
  • Idling dirties your engine with incomplete combustion increasing wear and tear. Maintaining your vehicle is important for preventing breakdowns and reducing air pollution. Modern cars have much better ignitions and can be turned on and off without unnecessary wear on the engine.
  • Catalytic converters retain their heat for about 25 minutes after an engine is switched off. You don’t need to keep the engine switched on for them to work properly.
  • It can take up to an hour for an engine to cool down. Turning off your engine but keeping the ignition on and the fan blowing will provide warm air for some time.
  • Over 50% of Particulate Matter (PM) in cities can come from taxis and cars.
  • Walking or cycling on roads with less traffic can reduce your exposure to air pollutants by 50% or even more.

YOU are the key to cleaner air!

No-idling myth-busting facts from our partners at Global Action Plan (GAP).

Southampton Healthy Homes: Amy’s Story

About the client

Amy and her daughter rent in Southampton. She got in touch with us through a local community group we work with shortly after moving house.

What did Amy need help with?

Amy had lived at her previous address for only one year and had a Direct Debit of £75 for her electricity and gas every month. In spite of this she was given a final bill of almost £1,200 from her supplier upon moving out. The stress of having this very large and unexpected final bill made Amy’s anxiety much worse. The energy supplier said they had no meter reading from when Amy moved in, so they used an estimate instead. Amy tried to work things out with her supplier, but they insisted the details were correct and offered her a repayment plan for the £1,200.

“I have medicated anxiety and can be prone to abandoning tasks such as dealing with energy companies if I can’t face it. I would probably have avoided it until they took me to court, because I couldn’t deal with their ridiculous system.”

How we were able to help Amy

A Southampton Healthy Homes advisor organised an office appointment with Amy, and together they called the energy supplier to gather the details about the meter readings. With Amy’s permission, the advisor was able to speak on her behalf, reducing the stress of the situation and asking the right questions to get the matter addressed. By identifying the actual meter readings and ensuring these were accurately recorded by the supplier, the advisor arranged for Amy’s bill to be recalculated to reflect the actual amount of energy she had used. The final bill now indicated that Amy was almost £250 in credit.

“Southampton Healthy homes helped my wellbeing by supporting me through a difficult and frustrating process that would have upset my mental health (and therefore impacted my children) if I had tried to tackle it alone. Not only that but I am almost certain that having you involved is why my case resulted in me receiving a refund, apology and compensation. I could not have dealt with the company as well as the adviser did. Their professional knowledge and calm manner are fantastic.”

Savings and outcomes

  • £1200 of charges were cleared from Amy’s bill
  • The supplier refunded Amy her £250
  • The supplier gave her an additional £50 as a goodwill gesture for the delays and stress caused by the billing issue
  • This has been a huge relief to Amy, who is now settling into her new home

“I will be recommending you to other people I know if they are having energy related or boiler problems.”

Get in touch

If you or someone you know is having trouble with energy bills, give our Southampton Healthy Homes advisors a call on Freephone 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) or email them on keepwarm@environmentcentre.com.

Southampton Healthy Homes: Ashley’s Story

About the client

Ashley is a single parent, she lives in a rental property and works full time to support her family. Money is tight, especially during her first winter in the home when electric heaters were their only source of heating.

The letting agency first contacted us after receiving a letter from the previous tenants, suggesting a grant may be available to help upgrade the home’s heating system. After the initial call, we got in touch with Ashley directly.

What did Ashley need help with?

Ashley had moved into the property just before winter and was hit with a whopping electricity bill at the end of the quarter from heating her home with electric room heaters. She thought about moving but the costs of moving outweighed her energy costs. She hoped we could help her get a grant for first time central heating.

Ashley’s modest income, paired with the vulnerabilities of having a child under the age of 5 and high energy costs in an E-rated home, meant we could apply for funding under ECO Flexible Eligibility.

The property did not have a mains gas connection, yet many of Ashley’s neighbours did. In discussions with her over the phone, we signposted Ashley to SGN’s Assisted Connections, which works to connect eligible customers to mains gas at little or no cost. Ashley agreed to call them to find out if she would qualify for a free connection and how long it would take to connect the property to the mains gas. Not long after we visited Ashley, she notified us that she qualified for the free gas connection. She told us where SGN planned to locate the gas pipe and that it would take about eight weeks from start to finish.

How we were able to help Ashley

Once the gas connection was confirmed, we helped Ashley gather quotes to install central heating. Ashley had been liaising with the letting agency but felt that she was taking on more responsibility than she should. After having that conversation with Ashley, we agreed to call Buy with Confidence contractors on her behalf. The contractors visited and provided quotes within a week of our call.

With the quotes in hand, we emailed them to the landlord. We also spoke to him on the phone to see who his preferred contractor was and how much he may be able to contribute to the cost of the works. We then applied for a Southampton Healthy Homes grant for the remainder of the total cost, which was approved. A week after funding was confirmed, work began to install central heating. Ashley also arranged for her energy supplier to visit before the installation finished to have them install a gas meter.

When we went to visit Ashley after the week-long central heating installation, she was very pleased, not only with the work but also with the installer. She had a few questions about her heating controls but we confirmed that she was using her programmable thermostat correctly. We also agreed to do a price comparison at a later date, with the Warm Home Discount in mind, especially since Ashley had reduced the number of hours she was working. We discussed the possibility of applying for benefits, but Ashley preferred not to if she could avoid it.

Savings and outcomes

  • Ashley received a free gas connection, normally costing around £1000
  • They received a grant of £3,360 for the first time central heating, in addition to the landlord’s contribution
  • The energy efficiency of the property was upgraded from an F28 to a C71 rating
  • The new combi boiler had the unintended effect of providing better shower pressure
  • The contractor was kind enough to unclog Ashley’s shower as well
  • Central heating is estimated to save Ashley £1194 each year on her energy bills (based on the EPC calculation)
  • Ashley is now less stressed about her energy bills
  • She has no intention of moving now that the cost of heating her home is reduced

“Excellent. Very helpful, supportive, attentive and willing to listen each time I called. I am emotionally happier; and not having to worry about my energy bills anymore. As I hope the central heating will bring my electricity bills down significantly.”

Get in touch

The Southampton Healthy Homes team can provide advice and support to residents of any tenure. If you’re struggling with high energy bills, give us a call on Freephone 0800 804 8601 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) or email keepwarm@environmentcentre.com to speak to an advisor about how we can help.

Are you eligible for the Warm Home Discount 2018-19?

What is the Warm Home Discount?

The Warm Home Discount is a scheme providing eligible households with a £140 electricity bill discount for winter 2018-19. This discount is available to credit and pre-payment customers, providing your supplier is part of the scheme and you meet their eligibility criteria. The scheme is open to applications now and it is worth applying early to ensure you get it.

Who is eligible?

There is a Core Group who are automatically eligible and don’t need to apply. These are householders who were receiving Guaranteed Pension Credit on 8th July 2018. If you decide to switch energy supplier after this date and before you receive the Warm Home Discount, you should expect it from your previous supplier. However, if you have been awarded Guaranteed Pension Credit after the 8th of July 2018 then you will need to apply for the Warm Home Discount yourself.

If you don’t meet the criteria for the Core Group you may be eligible under the Broader Group and will also need to apply yourself. Eligibility criteria varies slightly between energy suppliers but is usually based on low income, means tested benefits and a vulnerability in the household e.g. disability or child under 5. You can check the individual eligibility criteria with your energy supplier or by clicking the links below. If you apply but then decide to switch before you receive the Warm Home Discount, you will need to reapply with your new supplier.

Which suppliers are part of the scheme?

* The energy companies indicated with the asterisk only offer the Warm Home Discount to the Core Group.

How to apply?

You need to apply directly with your energy supplier, you can find their contact details through the website links above. Depending on the supplier you can apply online, by phone or by post.

If you have any further questions about the Warm Home Discount or would like more advice about reducing your bills and keeping warm you can phone us on Freephone 0800 804 8601.