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First refugees and asylum seekers empowered online to tackle fuel poverty

A groundbreaking energy empowerment scheme for refugees and asylum seekers has switched online during COVID-19 to tackle fuel poverty and promote healthy homes.

From Press releases - 3 June 2020 12:00 AM

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‘Beyond Borders, Empowered by Energy’ is a unique energy awareness project empowering vulnerable newly recognised refugees to the UK, struggling to survive on extremely low incomes, to overcome the language barrier, understand new energy systems and save money.

Funded by Britain’s biggest electricity distributor UK Power Networks, workshops are led online by fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) with expert partners who work closely with refugees, including the Refugee Council.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the workshops have been adapted for online, via Zoom video conferencing. The first remote workshops took place last week with refugees and asylum seekers in London learning about heat loss through windows walls and roofs, why keeping a home warm is crucial to health and simple tips to reduce energy loss. Condensation, damp and mould may not be familiar problems for people who have come from warmer countries.

Rebecca Jones, NEA project development coordinator, who leads the workshops, said: “We have overcome challenges to deliver this training remotely and I’m excited about the impact our workshops will have. Many refugees and asylum seekers suddenly start from scratch in the UK, with little knowledge of how things work. They have gone through horrific times in their lives and have had to leave everything behind.” 

The workshops help to create confident ‘energy champions’ who can share practical tips with others on sustaining safe and warm homes throughout bitterly cold British winters, without unnecessarily falling into energy debt.

Kerry Potter, consumer vulnerability manager at UK Power Networks, said: “We’re proud of our refugee programme, which is an absolute first, supporting very vulnerable households who have very different knowledge of the energy market and empowering them to confidently deal with their own situation and pass on those messages to support their local communities.

“This programme breaks through cultural and language barriers by empowering refugees and asylum seekers to help one another to navigate the energy system, set themselves up as savvy utility consumers and stay warm and well. Receiving advice from someone who has had the same experience as them is powerful in building trust, confidence and essential skills.”

Coming from different climates, refugees won’t automatically know how to keep a home warm, read their energy meter, set up an account or bleed radiators. The workshops build a self-sustaining support network to embed useful life skills and make communities more resilient. Without such support, refugees and asylum seekers can quickly find themselves owing hundreds of pounds to an energy supplier they didn’t know they had. The workshops give them the confidence to contact their energy company and get the support they need, take control of their energy bills and join their Priority Services Register. For example energy companies provide translation services and tariff support, such as the Warm Home Discount Scheme.

Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of NEA, said: “Everything is new for asylum seekers and refugees. On top of everything else they often end up with higher energy bills. Working with UK Power Networks, NEA has been able to support asylum seekers and refugees with energy advice which they can pass on to their families and communities, including by video during the Covid-19 crisis. Being a refugee or asylum seeker is an overwhelming experience and this project gets help to those who need it most.”

Beth Nichols, Social Integration Coordinator, Refugee Council, said: “Accessing suitable housing is just the first step for refugees we work with. Once they have housing, so many of our clients come to us for support understanding their energy bills and with questions about saving money at home. We were delighted to partner with NEA and UK Power Networks who provided our clients with the expert information they needed, and more! Running the sessions online meant that refugees from different areas of London were able to join easily from home without having to make a great journey across the city.”