Our population is getting older. In 2016, 18 per cent of people in the UK were aged 65 and over. That’s expected to rise to 28% in Scotland by 2036 (OfNS). With age comes the increased risk and instance of poor health, and the number of people managing chronic physical and mental health issues will grow.
Statistics show elderly and vulnerable people are at a much greater risk from gas leaks and fires in their homes, and as a gas distribution network we have an acute sense of our responsibility to keep customers safe and warm at all times. We also believe we can create positive impacts through our activities, leading to better outcomes for customers who may need extra help.
Through our research and ongoing engagement programmes, our stakeholders and customers have told us they want us to have a role supporting communities. In particular:
- providing low income households with help to heat their homes more affordably
- providing ‘above and beyond’ support for people who need extra help due to age, disabilities, health, etc
- working with partners such as local authorities and charities, to better support those vulnerable in the community.
We’re making a positive impact
Rather than simply keeping people safe and warm, we’re making a positive impact for customers who may have an increased need for care around their gas supply: reducing fuel poverty, improving outcomes for vulnerable customers and increasing awareness of carbon monoxide (CO) dangers in the home are three of our core focus areas. We’ve sought the specialist expertise of stakeholders and partners to advise us on a full range of support for our customers who need that extra help.
Through our Help to Heat scheme, we’re helping tackle fuel poverty by providing free gas connections to our network for those who qualify, connecting over 24,000 homes since 2013. We provide alternative cooking and heating appliances for customers needing extra help if they are without their gas supply, and actively refer customers to the Priority Service Register (PSR).
Of course, being over 65 isn’t the only factor that might increase a customer’s vulnerability. Our engineers visit over half a million homes each year and are best placed to identify circumstances where our extra care could make a positive impact.
We’re a dementia friendly organisation with over 1,700 colleagues trained in dementia awareness plus we’ve empowered all our engineers to trigger the kind of benefits that would make a difference to households that needing extra help. They may include households with children under five and expectant mothers, people with long-term health Issues, disability, language or communication needs, or who are unable to pay their energy bills or appliance repair costs.
What else should we do?
We’d like to offer other services that would continue to demonstrate how, through our operations and relationships, we can improve outcomes for our vulnerable customers. But we need the support of customers and stakeholders to tell us what appropriate, and how much overall customers would be willing to pay.
For example, we could establish a process and structure to refer vulnerable customers to trusted partner organisations which can provide additional help, such as energy efficiency advice, home safety visits and appliance servicing or repair. That might add 5, 10 or 20p each year to customers’ bills. What’s acceptable? Join the conversation here to share your views.