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Big Energy Saving Week: Lord Bourne visits the energy advice frontline

Minister (left) supports Big Energy Saving Week with Philip Sellwood (right), Chief Executive of Energy Saving Trust

 

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Parliamentary under-Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, paid a visit to the Energy Saving Advice Service on Tuesday to get an insight into how the service provides advice to help people manage their energy bills.

We spoke to Lord Bourne about the visit, and how advice fits into the UK’s energy future.

He said: “It’s been a very interesting visit and I’ve very much enjoyed listening in to calls. I was especially impressed by your staff who dealt with calls in a very thorough way. The thing that perhaps did surprise me is just how long it takes to deal with a call. I listened to a couple of calls, and they both lasted for a significant period. It was entirely right that they got detailed advice.

“One was a vulnerable customer very much in a fuel poverty situation, the other was not vulnerable but wanted advice on using her thermostat - both requiring the attention which they received. It’s a very useful service, and your staff are doing a first class job. Looking at the statistics, the number of people using the service shows that it is important for people in fuel poverty and those who would be paying for their own improvements.”

Big Energy Saving Week 2015 looks at switching energy supplier - with our headline stats suggesting many still don’t think there is much to be gained from a switch.

He said: “People can be a bit suspicious in this area, but it is improving. Another issue around engagement is that energy is a service where there is estimated billing – but smart meters will change all that.

“Everyone should shop around, and just because you’ve switched in the past doesn’t mean you’re on the right tariff forever. I was very pleased that on the calls I listened to the employee was giving advice that the caller should look at the possibility of switching and may be able to save themselves money. We need to make sure that the suppliers are also showing customers that they are able to switch. I will go back with a fresh impetus to make sure that they are doing that.”

 

Minister (right) listens to calls at Energy Saving Advice Centre. 

 

And with winter about to set in, we asked Lord Bourne about our survey finding that older people are struggling to take control of their energy in the digital age.

He said: “There is evidence that older people are engaging with smart meters in a way that we could only dream of. When something is explained well they will engage with it, and of course older people will have neighbours and relations who can help them to help them switch. It makes a big difference, especially when you consider that older people are often in their property longer than people who are out working, so their energy costs tend to be higher.”

Reducing carbon emissions is a multi-faceted business, requiring advice and support across numerous areas of people’s lives. Recent policy uncertainties have caused concern among campaigning groups that important gains could be lost.

He explained: “We are very conscious that services need to reach all people, the fuel poor and those want advice to reduce their electricity bill and to help with reducing greenhouse gas emissions - a very real and important agenda. We’re in the middle of a spending review, but by the end of the year I’m hoping we can give you much more detail about exactly how we’ll target that assistance.”

With energy efficiency an issue that cuts across buildings, infrastructure and transport, making coherent policy is a key challenge. We asked where Lord Bourne thinks the key to this lies.

He said: “I’m conscious of the fact we need to work across government departments. We do need to pull it all together. The Department for Communities and Local Government, DECC, the Department for Transport is involved, and so too is DEFRA in some issues relating to emissions.  It’s both a very local individual issue but also a big global one.”

Julian is Head of Communications at the Energy Saving Trust and has led a number of consumer engagement campaigns. After buying some derelict land at an auction, Julian project managed an eco-build house for his family and he is convinced that if he can do it, anyone can.
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