Fuelbank Charity Helps Families In Crisis 'Out Of The Cold'

Providing one-off £49 payment directly onto gas & electricity pre-payment meter

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Families in crisis who are referred to Wandsworth Foodbank can now receive immediate emergency help with gas and electricity too, thanks to a partnership with new local charity fuelbanks and families.

Since May 2015, more than 100 Wandsworth families have received immediate support through a fuel voucher which provides a one-off payment of £49 directly onto their gas or electricity meter, as well as longer-term debt advice from a dedicated Wandsworth Citizen’s Advice advisor, and help with grants towards school uniform.

Due to the wider need for emergency fuel help and the effectiveness of supporting families in Wandsworth, the charity is also helping families in Lambeth who are referred to Brixton and Norwood Foodbank. They will be offered further advice and support in partnership with local advice agency Centre 70.

fuelbanks and families is the first charity to be able to offer fuel credit directly on to families’ pre-payment meters, and grew from a meeting between CEO Jan Stimpson and Wandsworth Foodbank Manager Dan Frith in December 2014. Importantly the charity is funded entirely by individuals and is completely independent of energy companies, to ensure unfair tariffs on the poorest in society can be challenged. At the moment people on the lowest incomes often have to pay more for their gas and electricity through higher pre-payment meter charges.

Dan Frith, Wandsworth Foodbank Manager, says:
‘Many of our Foodbank guests have to make difficult choices between heating and eating, particularly as the weather turns colder. We know many will be going home to a very cold house; for others, we need to give food that doesn’t necessarily have to be heated up before they can eat it.

‘Partnering with fuelbanks and families offers a lifeline to families struggling in fuel as well as food poverty, and we’re really pleased that their volunteers are working alongside us at our five centres across the borough.’

fuelbanks and families CEO Jan Stimpson says:‘We’re increasingly moving to a society where the division between rich and poor is widening and harder to cross. There seems to be a growing culture of entitlement: the rich are seen as deserving of their immense wealth, by birth or skill; and the poor equally deserving of their struggle. In my experience, this is simply not true. I work with parents everyday who are immensely proud, able and hard-working. Many of us face difficult challenges, but from experience these challenges only turns into crises when people who are trying really hard to support and protect their families have absolutely no back up in the tough times.

‘Often the immediate financial help we give through emergency fuel and longer-term advice allows a family breathing space to get on their feet again – often preventing even more serious and costly consequences occurring. These small and essential measures of providing emergency fuel and food can prevent families from further stress and breakdown; keeping them together at their darkest hour, giving them a chance to get back on their feet, and even to help others as they move forward.’

Shareen M is one local mother whose family has benefited from fuelbanks and families’ help, after being referred in crisis to Wandsworth Foodbank by the local council. Shareen had worked full-time as a JobCentre advisor for ten years until last year when ill health forced her to give up her job. Shareen, a single parent of two young boys, says:
‘When I left my job it hit home how not having your paycheck every month, it’s really difficult to buy the groceries you need, the electric and gas. It was very difficult to keep it all up. My son went back to secondary school and he actually started a few days late because I didn’t have the school uniform money. Coming from the JobCentre, from giving people money and dealing with benefits to finding myself on the other side of things, was very difficult. Not that I judged people, but when I found myself in that predicament, it was very hard to deal with.'

‘I got into arrears [with gas and electricity] and then they came and put a pre-payment meter in. Once they put a meter in, they give you a debt to pay back. So you put £10 on, they take back £5. So then you can’t really heat your house: we had to wrap up warm, couldn’t put the heating on, it was a quick shower that we had to have, it was just the necessities we had to try and get by.

‘When I first realised I would come to the Foodbank, I was embarrassed. I had this idea that I was going to come into this dark and dingy place and it was going to be like a conveyor belt just picking up food, but it wasn’t like that at all. Everybody was so friendly, understanding, non-judgmental. Having people that understood your situation, it eased the pressure’

‘Getting the fuelbank payment of £49 helped so much. I knew the fuel would last me a month, so it meant that from our next week’s money, I had that £49 to pick myself back up. I could do a food shop for £25 and just get the necessities back in to get us back on a level, to pay for the school uniform I had to buy. It really did help me.

It’s not always long-term help you need, sometimes it’s just that little bit of help where you can just turn things round again. My boys, they’ve got heating, they had the food, they had the warmth, they had the hot water – and a bit of a less stressed mum.’

Shareen is now training to be a fuelbanks and families volunteer at Wandsworth Foodbank one day a week and is already helping other local families facing fuel poverty. She sees volunteering as a step towards getting back to work when she is well enough once more.

As winter approaches, fuelbanks and families is asking people who are eligible for the Winter Fuel Allowance but may feel they do not need it, to consider donating all or some of it to support local families like Shareen’s who are struggling in fuel poverty. All donations, which can be given via www.fuelbanksandfamilies.com, will go directly to families and are not used against any costs of running the charity.

November 1, 2015