Northern Ireland has the highest incidence of fuel poverty in the UK. Within NI making the right connections to address this is more difficult than the rest of the UK as local authorities do not have responsibility for issues such as housing and social care. To provide a 'single point of contact' for households struggling with fuel poverty and other health and wellbeing issues, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, through funding provided by Public Health Agency and Department for Communities, are playing their part by providing a person-centred Community Health and Wellbeing Adviser Service.
This seeks to address the main drivers of fuel poverty, poor energy efficiency, low disposable income, high energy costs and how energy is used, whilst also addressing other health and wellbeing and home safety issues which householders face.
Advisers make use of technology to initially help identify structural and behavioural issues. They then provide advice on the use of heating systems, on understanding energy bills, offer budgeting advice and help users switch providers if appropriate.
They also provide support for clients applying for energy efficiency measures available from the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme grant schemes and survey properties eligible for energy efficiency improvements via the Affordable Warmth Scheme. Integral to the service is a system of onward referral to other organisations for additional support. The service provides a joined up response to the needs of citizens, and through the establishment of two-way referral mechanisms, the most vulnerable are identified and assisted.
Support provided is tailored to the needs of the client, including: information on the relationship between their actions, their environment, and the fabric of the home; increasing efficient operation of their heating systems; increasing financial capabilities by improving budgeting and planning; ensuring value for money through interpretation of information on energy bills and comparison of energy prices across providers.
Advisers provide information on other council services and signpost/refer to other agencies in the statutory, voluntary or community sectors. They also provide simple, low cost energy saving measures such as radiator foils and chimney balloons, where required.
The service is reliant on the co-operation and support of other community, voluntary and statutory agencies such as local Health Trust teams, NI Fire and Rescue Service, social housing providers, and community groups to ensure the two-way referral system is successful.
Over the last three years the service has received almost 1,500 referrals, referred over 900 households for grant assistance, and referred 300 households for other health and wellbeing support.
Tackling inequalities and striving for good health and wellbeing for all of our citizens are key drivers for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. The Community Health and Wellbeing Team are rising to the challenge to meet these aims.
The council has provided three distinct services for a number of years: home safety, energy efficiency and Affordable Warmth. Staffing vacancies in 2019 provided us with the opportunity to combine these programmes in to a 'one stop shop' integrated service. Service-specific roles were merged into broad Community Health and Wellbeing Adviser roles, allocated to geographical areas aligned with District Electoral Areas. The service is funded by a mix of central government funding.
The service aimed to optimise opportunities for engagement with vulnerable clients and improve the service we provide once engaged; to maximise connections with local community networks, health professionals and statutory partners; to rebrand our service and streamline referral mechanisms; and to provide a more efficient, effective service within existing budgets.
The service has supported improved access to services provided by the Council, from home safety to cleansing, to environmental health services. The holistic approach of the service, the improved networking and the effective collaboration efforts have all been recognised by other organisations, who have reported a positive impact on clients' experiences.
The service was rebranded to 'Safe, Warm and Well'. This rebrand was accompanied by dedicated contact arrangements, alongside widespread dissemination of newsletters, leaflets etc across local statutory, voluntary and community groups in order to provide easy access to energy efficiency advice. This has increased the number of referrals by over 100%.
Follow-through by the Advisers has meant that objectives are likely to be met, which has led to improved effectiveness and ultimately warmer and safer homes. Adviser job satisfaction has improved, as they can offer more tailored support. They have also received additional training, and increased opportunities for career development.
External evaluation of the service highlighted a number of benefits to the council, staff and most importantly, service users. We can always do better and some expected improvements to the service include development of existing web-based survey forms to improve collection and reporting of quantitative data and further inter-departmental collaboration.
Future goals include improvements to council website information and increased social media advertising opportunities.
Number of households referred to Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme for grant support
Number of households surveyed for Affordable Warmth grant scheme
Number of households referred for other health and wellbeing support
Number of low cost energy efficiency measures provided to households (radiator foils, chimney balloons, etc.).