Despite considerable work around the take-up of fuel poverty alleviation programmes, prior to this project work had generally focused on or drawn upon evidence from frontline managers and other stakeholders. In comparison, research drawing on the insights of end users had been minimal.
Key research Question
The project set out to build on the existing literature around the take-up of fuel poverty alleviation measures by providing a valuable and thus far missing perspective – that of the would-be end user. Furthermore, a more specific aim was to consider the real and perceived barriers to the take-up of help with fuel poverty and energy efficiency for vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers, exploring the acceptance and rejection of help, the role and influence of different individuals and organisations and uneven take-up across a range of social factors.
Summary of activity
The research involved a community-based investigation into the barriers and possible solutions to the take-up of fuel poverty alleviation programmes. A combination of desk-based research with frontline staff and Participatory Appraisal (PA) techniques with communities was used to carry out this research. A total of 362 people took part in the PA, and 17 frontline staff returned detailed questionnaires. Four areas were studied: three with poor take-up and one with good take-up.
The research identified seven major barriers and possible solutions:
A lack of awareness and too much confusing information lead to poor awareness of appropriate schemes.
The lack of partnership working between the agencies providing the alleviation measures and agencies in contact with vulnerable groups needs to be addressed. This will assist in delivering a more effectively targeted and concise message.
A lack of trust, with possible solutions including home visits, client champions, referrals from other agencies already trusted by the client, visits to clubs and organisations that potential beneficiaries attend, recommendations from family members and letting people in an area know that other people have had work done by the scheme.
Confusion over eligibility, resulting in a need to clearly inform would-be beneficiaries of the eligibility criteria and to simplify processes as much as possible. This may also be enhanced through partnership working.
Eligibility is also problematic in that not all types of property and tenure are eligible for certain schemes. The most noticeable of these cases are those where the vulnerable customer is neither the owner nor the tenant or where a communal heating system is in operation. Extension of the types of alleviation measure and eligibility criteria will widen access. Also, working with landlords to promote schemes will help.
Frontline staff often state that people are too proud to accept free help; however, the assumption that pride acts as a barrier was not well supported by the evidence from the community.
Develop clear and concise area-based information in partnership with all agencies operating in that area. These include Primary Care Trusts, fuel poverty agencies, welfare agencies and any other relevant agency dealing with vulnerable people.
Develop a strategic advertising scheme specific to the needs of the area, as well as a general information campaign with a clear message from a trusted source to dispel any misconceptions about eligibility.
Avoid narrow stereotyping of potential clients.
Use language that is relevant to the client and potential clients.
Be aware that the assumptions of frontline staff will have an impact on their effectiveness.
Assist staff in examining their assumptions.
Build trust through working with agencies established in the community.
Work with the Landlords Association to promote the acceptance of schemes by tenants.
Publicise the fact that many different properties can benefit from schemes.