With high levels of fuel poverty and growing numbers of elderly residents, Ribble Valley Borough Council has been working with a group of partner organisations to offer some of its most vulnerable residents a pack which contains practical items that will help them to stay warm and comfortable. It believes that this, plus the provision of advice about energy efficiency, can make a real difference.
Figures for 2010 showed that 19.7% of the population of Ribble Valley were aged over 65, compared to a UK average of 16.6%. The number of older residents was also increasing rapidly, with the resident population aged over 85 having grown by 40% between 2004 and 2009. Many of the Borough's older residents live in remote rural areas and six of its parishes rank in the bottom 10% nationally for their access to services.
The percentage of local households living in fuel poverty is 16.7% compared to 11.5% for England as a whole. Moreover, some 60% of households are not connected to mains gas and there is a high proportion of hard to treat properties, most of which have solid stone walls.
The challenges facing the Council were twofold. The first was to put together a persuasive bid for funding a scheme which would tackle excess winter morbidity whilst avoiding overlap with existing initiatives. The second challenge was to ensure that the initiative was implemented effectively.
In late 2011 Ribble Valley Borough Council (in Lancashire) made a successful bid for funding through the Department of Health's Warm Home Healthy People scheme. Its approach, which is intended to supplement Warmfront and other local grant schemes, focuses on giving energy efficiency advice and providing a pack of items to help elderly and vulnerable residents to keep themselves warm.
To maximise the chances of a successful bid the Council recognised the importance both of avoiding any duplication or overlap with existing energy efficiency schemes and of working effectively with partner organisations. Speed was also of the essence as the bid needed to be submitted within an extremely tight timeframe.
A joint meeting was held with Age UK, Health Direct and Crossroads (a local carer support provider) to consider the most beneficial format for the new scheme. Following that discussion it was decided the core of the bid should be to offer free warm homes packs and to provide energy efficiency advice. This would be targeted at residents who are eligible for specified benefits and who are either aged over 60 or have children under age 5. Particular priority was given to those aged over 65 who are in receipt of pension credit guarantee and who live on their own in unsupported accommodation. The Council would take care to ensure that the scheme was promoted in its rural areas.
The Council was successful in obtaining a grant of £108,000 which was:
* to provide training for volunteers so they could give energy efficiency advice; and
* to pay for 1,000 packs, each one including an electric blanket, fleece shawls, hats and gloves, flasks and thermos cups, nightlights, a voucher for slippers, draught-proofing and radiator reflectors.
Through bulk purchasing the Council negotiated a significant reduction in the cost of the packs (from an estimated £100 per pack to just £60). This saving enabled a second successful bid to use the remaining funds to subsidise up to 50% of the cost of replacing old and irreparable boilers. A boiler replacement and home safety scheme has since been approved by the Council and is now operational.
Benefits and outcomes
By the nature of the funding this is a one-off scheme and it is early days. However, the warm packs scheme was publicised through press releases and between late January and the end of March it attracted 850 enquiries. To date (end April 2012) some 700 packs have been distributed.
Response from recipients of the warm homes packs has been extremely positive, as illustrated by the examples below:
"Many thanks for the items in the bag to assist us in the winter. We will find them very useful."
"I am delighted with the high standard of the goods."
"[The scheme is] very much appreciated, the items have all been used to keep us warm."
When the volunteers have delivered warm homes packs they have also provided advice to vulnerable residents about improving their energy efficiency.
As noted above, the scheme has been funded by a Warm Homes Healthy People grant from the Department of Health, which was for £108,000.
The Council provided training to the sixteen volunteers so that they have been able to offer advice on energy efficiency. That training lasted one day and cost the Council a total of £150.
Mileage costs are also being paid to the volunteers for the visits that they make to scheme clients.
The partners in this scheme have each offered some help in kind. Examples include Age UK sourcing the volunteers, Help Direct providing the scheme's phone line and Ribble Valley Homes offering storage space for the home packs.
Lessons for others
The scheme has been carefully targeted and considerable thought was given to make sure it complemented other types of support that were already available with respect to improving energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty.
The combination of energy efficiency advice with delivery of the packs is a clever approach. It is a good way to get advice out to vulnerable residents who they might not otherwise seek or receive it.
The scheme is an excellent example of the benefits that can be derived from a local authority working in partnership with other organisations at all stages, from formulating the initial bid to ensuring efficient scheme implementation. Its success has been greatly assisted by the input of the various partners.
Rural Services Network case study
Written May 2012