Gas distribution company SGN, UK Power Networks and Anglian Water have come together in a cross-utility partnership with Scope to help disabled customers manage their utility bills.
Over this autumn and winter, disabled customers of each of the companies will be provided with details of disability equality charity Scope’s free advice helpline offering support to those living with disabilities who need help managing their energy and water requirements.
The partnership is focusing on helping those who are worried about energy or water bills and need advice. It’s also aimed at disabled customers who are struggling to top up their pre-payment meter or are experiencing barriers in accessing grants or other support already available to them.
The helpline, which is known as ‘Disability Energy Support (DES) with Water Advice’ launched in December 2020, and is already being promoted by all the companies as part of their work with the Scope Utilities Membership (SUM).
Now, Anglian Water, SGN and UK Power Networks have each provided additional funding to allow Scope to increase the number of people that can be helped by this service and to expand the range of services available through the helpline so they can get truly holistic support.
DES is open to any disabled person or household in England and Wales where one or more disabled people live. To date, Scope estimates the service has already saved people a total of nearly £345,000.
Customers will be offered a 45-minute telephone appointment with an energy adviser who will provide support specific to their needs. Looking at recent energy bills, meter readings, missed payments and payment plans, the energy adviser will help the customer create a personalised action plan, setting out steps to be taken to resolve problems which may include contacting other services for additional advice and support. Customers will also be entitled to two follow up meetings with their adviser.
Kerry Potter, Group Social Impact and Vulnerability Manager at SGN, said: “It’s well documented that disabled people have increased living and utility costs and disproportionately less household income due to the nature of disability or access to employment or carer needs. With the current anxiety surrounding energy costs and stability of the energy market, it’s crucial that we act now to reach out to those who are most in need.”
Tom Marsland, Scope’s Consumer Affairs Policy Manager, said: “The current energy crisis, combined with the increase in the energy price cap level, means bills are set to soar this winter, leaving many disabled people facing financial hardship. Life already costs more if you are disabled, and rising energy and water bills will make life even tougher for disabled people.
“Our new, free service ‘Disability Energy Support with Water Advice’ is helping disabled people during this difficult time. We are offering advice on what to do if your energy supplier goes bust, how to reduce your bills and how to get any extra financial help you might be eligible for.
“We want to thank SGN, UK Power Networks and Anglian Water for helping us provide this vital service.”
Dr Giulia Privitera, Strategic Social Sustainability Programme Manager at UK Power Networks, said: “Put simply – the social model for disability says people are disabled by barriers within society, not by their disability itself. The same applies for the energy sector. This partnership is breaking down the barriers to ensure those with disabilities have access to the crucial support they need to manage their energy and water needs.”
Beth Kennedy, Partnership Manager at Anglian Water, said: “We’re incredibly proud to be the first and currently only water company to be a part of Scope's Utilities Membership and co-funding the Disability Energy Support Line with Water Advice is an extension of the support we're ensuring is available for our disabled customers.
“The Disability Energy Support Line with Water Advice is there to ensure our disabled customers have access to a dedicated team which helps address these anxieties and provides an all-round, holistic support service.”