With energy bills increasing by 54% since April, local Tower Hamlets residents are taking matters into their own hands.
Fuel prices have doubled in the last three months. And for the almost one in seven households in Tower Hamlets which are living with fuel poverty, many will find this too hard to bear.
But help is at hand.
In our third article of the cost of living series, we look at how the Empower project has been helping locals learn energy literacy, and tackle the increase in energy bills.
Empower is run at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre (BBBC) and was set up two years ago in conjunction with East London Age UK, Poplar HARCA, and Citizens Advice East End. The course is taken over six weeks and teaches people to learn how to be energy efficient which, in turn, helps them to cut down on their energy bills.
Advice includes how best to compare different energy suppliers’ prices, ways of reducing consumption and how to negotiate your payment installments with your supplier.
Upon completing the course, participants become ‘Energy Champions’ and are encouraged to share their newfound knowledge with friends, families, and neighbours.
Poplar resident Carol Winmill is one such Energy Champion. She took the course earlier this year and said that the course ‘definitely helped me understand my bills better’.
Her newfound skill has been vital over the last three months when energy prices have increased so sharply. Winmill said she feels better equipped and confident to speak to her energy company, EDF, about how to manage the increase.
She explained that, prior to April, her electricity bill was £35 a month which she paid by direct debit. But, in the last three months, her bill has trebled to £110 a month. ‘So I phoned them up and said, “Look, no I can’t afford that.”.’ After having completed the course, she said ‘it makes you more confident to be able to say that rather than just up think ‘Oh, it’s going up so do I pay my electric but can’t afford to eat?’
After speaking to EDF, the power company agreed she could pay £45 a month but will pay the difference in installments when she can more easily afford to.
Winmill’s knowledge has helped ‘six to seven friends’ which she said laughing, ‘I think I bore them to death a few times talking about it!’ Her knowledge has particularly helped her sister with her water bill. Winmill has managed to help her sister reduce her bill from £67 a month to £30 a month all through one simple solution: getting a water meter installed.
Winmill is just one of 60 or so Energy Champions who have found that the course has changed the way they manage their energy bills. In a survey conducted by the BBBC, 88% of participants said they took action after the course including reducing energy usage, switching to cheaper suppliers, to insulating their homes better.
Ruby Farrell, a coordinator from East London Age UK who worked alongside BBBC on Empower, said that the feedback on the course was encouraging. Farrell noted that one participant said: ‘The course was fantastic. After my course, I learnt how to save money and energy at home as well as knowledge to share with people.’
If you enjoyed this piece, read our overview of the cost of living crisis in Tower Hamlets.
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