Opinion Former Article

NEA: Vulnerable groups least likely to receive help

Black and ethnic minority groups in Coventry are seriously under-represented when it comes to vital funding, according to research by leading fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA).

The research, carried out amongst householders in Coventry, suggests the government's Warm Front Scheme, that provides grants for insulation and energy measures around the home, is failing to reach black, minority and ethnic households due to barriers including language difficulties, poor integration and negative experiences of previous grant schemes.

The findings of the Coventry research - carried out earlier this year - were underlined by this week's report from the influential Committee of Public Accounts which criticized the Warm Front Scheme saying it was "failing many of the poorest households."

NEA estimates that almost 450,000 households in the West Midlands are in Fuel Poverty - spending more than ten per cent of their income on fuel and heat. This is one of the highest rates in the country.

Wendy Donnelly, NEA Regional Co-ordinator for the West Midlands, said:

"Evidence from Warm Front installers and BME community workers suggest that the take up of Warm Front grants is disproportionately low, particularly within the most vulnerable communities, despite many attempts to improve the situation."

NEA is helping to tackling problems of fuel debt and disconnection in Coventry by setting up a specialist fuel poverty action team.

HEAT - The Home Energy Advice Team - delivers a service for vulnerable groups and is specifically tailored to meet the client's individual needs when resolving complex fuel debt problems. The team's work is supported by ScottishPower Energy People Trust.

Wendy added: "HEAT works to improve levels of energy awareness and the impacts of fuel poverty within these communities by increasing awareness of fuel debt and the practical solutions available to solve the issue. This includes working with Warm Front to ensure it reaches those who are vulnerable and most in need of its help and resources."

Jenny Saunder Chief Executive of NEA said of the PAC report:

"Warm Front is an effective and ambitious scheme that has helped over 2 million households save money on their energy bills. However, due to its magnitude there will be failings.

"We've pointed out some of these flaws in the past, and we're glad that the Committee has also echoed our concerns, particularly over grant access to those in rural areas and the issue of clients having to make a contribution to the grant which may have precluded them from going ahead with the scheme.

"Over recent months, the Government has made improvements to the scheme - particularly by increasing the grant maxima and introducing technologies such as solar thermal and ground source heat pumps, initially as trials.

"From next April funding for the Warm Front scheme will be slashed by almost 50% to £200 million and Government needs to address this as a matter of urgency and increase resources to at least the same level as the current year."

Anyone who feels they would benefit from the services HEAT can offer should call 024 7655 9191 for more information.

For more information on Warm Front call 0800 316 2805

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