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Reaching Fuel Poor Families: Informing New Approaches to Promoting Take-up of Fuel Poverty Assistance among Families with Children

Association for the Conservation of Energy
The Children’s Centre
Date: 2014


Previous research has pointed to a strong link between living in fuel poverty and a range of health problems including respiratory issues and mental illness, as well as other negative social outcomes. Given that a significant proportion of households living in fuel poverty are families with children, maximising the take-up of financial assistance and other forms of support such as advice and guidance available to families is vital. Extant studies suggest rates of participation in such schemes are low, and therefore an understanding of what works will be valuable if progress is to be made in tackling fuel poverty. The impending publication of a national fuel poverty strategy provides immediacy to this issue.

Key research Question

The Reaching Fuel Poor Families project was designed to assess the effectiveness of strategies used to engage fuel poor families with various available assistance options. Specifically, it sought to explore whether Children’s Centres could act as suitable brokers in this process and highlight the criteria for successful schemes.

Summary of activity

The research comprised three main elements:

  • A literature review of fuel poverty among families with children in the UK, with a summary of available assistance and the motivators and barriers to uptake.
  • A review of a sample of previous projects focused on fuel poverty that operated in Children’s Centres, with a view to identifying their strengths and weaknesses.
  • An in-depth case study of one scheme in a Children’s Centre in Bradford based on interviews, observations and consultations with staff and service users.
  • A review of unpublished research on families and fuel poverty completed in the Home Counties.


The review of past research indicated that, while fuel poverty among families with children is a significant issue, multiple barriers exist that prevent full advantage being taken of the various assistance schemes. However, the role of ‘trusted intermediaries’ offers opportunities to remedy this. This evidence, plus the fieldwork completed for the study, indicates that Children’s Centres offer significant possibilities for promoting access to fuel poverty assistance. These could be categorised as follows:

  • Location – many Centres are located in deprived neighbourhoods where chronic fuel poverty is over-represented. They are often within walking distance of people’s homes.
  • Established trust – staff have close relationships with families, which provide a foundation for long-term associations and a greater likelihood of acceptance.
  • Communication skills of staff members – Children’s Centre workers are already adept at promoting messages around health and wellbeing.
  • Added incentives – the provision of childcare and health and education services acts as a draw onto which fuel poverty initiatives can be grafted.


However, there are also factors that could limit the success of such an approach. These include low attendance at fuel poverty sessions, the short-term nature of funding, reticence among families in discussing the issues, inadequate training of staff and poor communication.


The lessons learned can be rolled out across Children’s Centres. Beyond this, the report has a range of recommendations, including:

  • National government should look to utilise Children’s Centres as a key delivery mechanism for fuel poverty alleviation among families and assign suitable funding.
  • Local government should link Children’s Centres into fuel poverty work and use all relevant mechanisms to publicise available assistance.
  • Energy suppliers should seek to establish partnerships with Children’s Centres to promote industry schemes to address fuel poverty (e.g. energy efficiency measures).
  • Third sector organisations working on fuel poverty should look to collaborate with Children’s Centres (e.g. promoting referrals).
  • In order to maximise the impact, low-income families with children should be automatically eligible for financial assistance (e.g. the Warm Home Discount).

Other themes



Find out more about our Fuel Poverty themes. Discover our projects and related reports.