A commitment across the whole council to tackling fuel poverty and good inter-agency working has enabled Luton BC to help its most vulnerable households.
“It can take six months for the national Warm Front initiative to install improvements to old people’s heating and insulation,” says Sarah Allen, the council’s inclusion and cohesion manager. “That can leave people helpless through the winter, whereas we can supply oil-filled radiators as emergency heating within two hours.”
Help from the council is a vital addition to Warm Front, which only pays for improvements up to a total of£2,700.
Last year Luton paid the difference for improvements costing more than this for 140 people on means-tested benefits.
It also provides help to anyone on low incomes, rather than just those with disabilities or over 60 years old.
The work is labour intensive, warns Ms Allen. “Those who are vulnerable do not ask for help. We use the eyes and ears of the community to reach people who would otherwise lose out, like widows whose husbands did things for them.”
Currently, 60% of the beneficiaries of Luton’s work are aged over 60.
“People who are vulnerable do not have the stamina and sometimes give up. You have to chase outcomes for them: to see why jobs have been cancelled, and get jobs reopened and completed,” adds Ms Allen.
She is particularly proud of Luton’s ‘one-stop shop’ referral network, under which front-line staff and others from 40 local organisations distribute an easy-to-complete questionnaire to vulnerable households.
The results of the questionnaire are centrally co-ordinated and those eligible are then contacted with specialist help in maximising incomes, making homes energy efficient, or other social support.
The council is also learning from its experiences of helping vulnerable and infirm people.
When it started helping people get their benefit entitlements, it fast-tracked them to a meeting at the Citizens Advice Bureau . But some people were reluctant to go to an unknown location and give information to a stranger and did not attend.
Now the council first talks to people about their situation over the telephone and then visits them in their home to help them complete a claim.
Ms Allen puts Luton’s success down to the council’s commitment to anti-poverty issues and the fact that tackling fuel poverty is now a national indicator for local area agreements, which have led council departments and different agencies to work more effectively together.