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‘Your child will be warm this winter’: Orkney charity worker helps those struggling with energy price crisis

Craig Nisbet, a community support officer at THAW Orkney, said families and households have been hugely impacted by the cost of living crisis
Craig Nisbet, a community support officer at THAW Orkney, said families and households have been hugely impacted by the cost of living crisis

An energy charity worker in Orkney who hands out grants worth on average £350 has described the huge difference it makes to people facing significant rises in their energy bills.

THAW Orkney, a charitable organisation that helps households experiencing fuel poverty, makes payments directly to people’s energy providers or supports clients with weekly top-up texts thanks to a fund established to support Scots struggling with their energy bills.

You can feel their tension disappear

Craig Nisbet, a community support officer at the charity which acts as a “referral partner” for the fund, said: “Having access to this fund this year means I am making some wonderful phone calls where I’m getting to tell people ‘your child will be warm this winter’.

“When we’re calling these people, you can feel their shoulders drop, you can feel their tension disappear.

“There’s so much else to worry about at the moment and this is one less weight on them.

“We’ve seen families and households hugely impacted by this where they know they are not going to be cold in the immediate future.”

Many are concerned about how they will keep themselves warm as the cost of energy increases drastically. Photo: macondo/Shutterstock

What is the £3m fund to help Scots struggling with their energy bills and how will the cash be paid out?

Individuals cannot apply directly to the fund but instead must apply to referral partners such as THAW Orkney, which Mr Nisbet described as a “small, third sector organisation” with a “small staff number and limited resources”.

He urged other organisations to also join as referral partners.

He said: “If there are organisations in other small communities that know people who are struggling and don’t know how to access the funds to help them, becoming a referral partner can give you access to life-changing support for people.

“It will get people through the winter.”

People across the UK are facing a cost of living crisis as costs of energy, food and other items spiral, with communities across the north and north east of Scotland particularly affected. 

Householders were dealt a further, huge blow when the energy watchdog announced bills will increase in April by nearly £700.

But many are already facing increased energy costs as well as those in deepest poverty having had a £20 reduction in their Universal Credit payments.

Here is where households across Scotland will be hit hardest by energy price cap increase

Rachael Taylor, 31, received £350 towards her energy bill through THAW Orkney after the cost of her electricity more than doubled in the winter months – leaving her having to choose between heating her home or refuelling her car.

Photo Steve Parsons/PA Wire

“It puts my head above water financially and means I don’t have to stress over where it’s all going,” she said.

Bills ‘absolutely skyrocket’

Ms Taylor, who is from Orkney and lives alone, said her winter bills “absolutely sky-rocket”.

“They go from around £100 a month to £250 a month,” she said.

“I don’t have my heating turned up, I have very little heating on in my house and tend to grab a jumper and a couple of blankets when it gets chilly.

“The only way I could afford to pay for these bills would be to not put fuel in my car, which when you live in a remote or a rural area is really important.

“All of my closest friends live eight miles from me, and the closest place I can add to my electricity meter is 13 miles away, so my car is really valuable.

“It also means I can choose to do my food shopping at a larger, more affordable supermarket than at a smaller, more expensive local shop.

“THAW told me they could support me through the Home Heating Support Fund which has been a massive help. The £350 is more than a month and a half of electricity for me.

“I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it. It means this month I can tuck away the normal amount I would have spent on my electricity which in turn puts me in a better position going forward.

“It puts my head above water financially and means I don’t have to stress over where it’s all going.”

Support organisations must register to help

More than 400 charities, organisations and advisers have signed up to refer Scots struggling with their energy bills to the £4million Home Heating support fund.

Charities, housing associations, and community organisations which provide energy or debt advice, are encouraged to register online so that they can seek funding for people they support.

The Scottish Government scheme is being administered by national advice service Advice Direct Scotland, and referral partners can still register to help their clients hit by the cost-of-living crisis.

The Home Heating Support Fund is open until March 31.

Advice Direct Scotland chief executive Andrew Bartlett.

Andrew Bartlett, chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland, said: “Since launching the scheme, more than 400 referral partners have registered and we’re receiving hundreds of applications on behalf of their clients who are struggling with energy bills.

“This demonstrates the scale of the cost-of-living crisis.

“But we know there are more people out there who need support, so we encourage any charities, housing associations, or community organisations which provide energy or debt advice to register with us.

“This fund will prove absolutely crucial in ensuring that households who have been hit the hardest can continue to heat their homes and feed their families.”

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