3,136 Stokies receive share of £541k handouts to heat homes

More than 3,000 families hit by fuel poverty in Stoke-on-Trent have been helped by an advice service over the last six months - receiving more than £500,000 in support. Stoke-on-Trent has the highest fuel poverty rate in England, with 24.7 per cent of households in the city lacking the funds to heat their homes to an adequate temperature, as of 2022.

Beat the Cold says there has been 'very high demand' for its energy advice service since the current version launched in November. The service has an annual target of supporting 3,000 households - including owner-occupiers and private renters - but in its first six months it has already helped 3,136 families and individuals.

It will run for two years, jointly funded through £100,000 from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the government and the NHS. Stoke-on-Trent's high fuel poverty rate is down to three factors: low incomes, poor housing and high energy costs.

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Beat the Cold's advice service aims to tackle these issues by helping households maximise income and reduce fuel costs, signposting them to financial support, and facilitating repairs and home improvements. Since November clients have received fuel and food vouchers and other financial support totalling £541,475.

Fiona Miller, development and partnership manager at Beat the Cold, told Stoke-on-Trent's health and wellbeing board that the service was making progress in reducing fuel poverty in the city.

She said: "We had an annual target of 3,000 households and we have met that in six months. Demand is very, very high. We are seeing a significant level of crisis requiring crisis intervention through the Household Support Fund, and the wider cost of living crisis.

"Our work is heavily designed around making sure that the fabric of homes is fit for purpose and designed to reduce cold-related ill health. That remains the focus, and we're trying to balance that with immediate crisis relief needs. We are delighted to say that's going in the right direction."

The board was also told about a pilot at Moorcroft Medical Centre which uses NHS data to target fuel poverty support at vulnerable patients, such as children with asthma, with the aim of reducing hospital admissions. Ms Miller said that Beat the Cold were keen to expand the project to include different patient cohorts.

Board members quizzed Ms Miller about Stoke-on-Trent's very high levels of fuel poverty, and whether Beat the Cold had a target for reducing it.

Ms Miller said while the energy advice service was one way of tackling the issue, there are wider underlying factors in Stoke-on-Trent that need to be addressed. She said: "I believe that the route out of the fuel poverty that we experience at the moment is to work on that wider piece, including skills, education and labour market opportunities, as well as driving up energy performance certificate ratings."

The board agreed to receive six-monthly updates on the progress of the energy advice service, which is contracted to run until November 2025.