Two Midlands schemes show how housing associations can help tenants stay on top of their energy costs

Social landlords are well placed to help tenants cope with spiralling fuel bills, a speaker from an energy watchdog has told a conference.

David Mason, strategic development adviser at Energywatch, said housing organisations were better known and trusted than many energy advice groups and had a permanent presence in their communities.

With almost a quarter of the population set to fall into fuel poverty by the end of next year, now is the time to provide energy advice.

Speaking at the National Housing Federation conference, he described a pilot scheme run by Energywatch with Castle Vale Community Housing Association in Birmingham.

Castle Vale

Energywatch held 19 events in housing offices and around the area to help tenants get on the cheapest energy tariffs and to sort out problems like inaccurate bills or disconnection.

The average savings per person was as £90 on electricity and £125 on gas per year.

The advisers spoke to 300 people and gave detailed advice to 40, 19 of whom switched supplier. The main cost was around £12,000 of advisers’ time, which Energywatch supplied free of charge plus producing posters and leaflets, which Castle Vale paid for.


The average savings per person of the 19 who switched supplier was as £90 on electricity and £125 on gas per year. Several people had £1000 to £2000 of debt written off.

Only one person of the 300 spoken to by advisers was on the cheapest tariff. “That gives you some idea of how much real work needs to be done to get everybody on right deal,” says Mason.

Building a bond

Ideally, Energywatch would have had a presence on site for a year so they could gradually build a relationship with tenants and increase the number of advice sessions, says Mason. But the cases had to be finished by May before Energywatch was replaced by a new consumer watchdog in October.

Building a good rapport with tenants’ groups was important, says Mason. “In one tower block the residents association came to us to satisfy themselves that we were saying was true and then recommended the residents to come to us,” he says.

Only one person of the 300 was on the cheapest tariff.

People tend not to respond to letters through the door or switch supplier once they get home from am advice session, so the team took computers with them to some events so tenants could look at price comparison sites plus forms and telephones so they could ring the energy company while they were with an adviser.


Meanwhile a group of social landlords described the partnership they have formed to provide energy advice to their residents. Energyexatra, whose members include Black Country Housing Group, Accord, Caldmore and South Staffordshire housing associations and Dudley council, provides advice on switching energy supplier, using heating systems and paying energy bills.

The group funds its advice service through a deal it was Scottish and Southern Electricity whereby it switches properties over to them as they become empty. They are paid for each referral and make about £750,000 in referral fees. Tenants can switch to any provider they choose when they move in. “We only get paid for void referral so can offer independent advice to tenants to find a cheaper supplier,” says Anne-Marie Neenan, business development manager at Energyextra.

The £900 bill

One tenant got a £923 refund after Energyextra passed her case to Energywatch because her supplier had put her on the wrong tariff. “We get far more response from our customers because we will visit them in their own homes where they are comfortable, have access to bills and metre and are able to ring supplier and iron out queries,” she says.