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First Fuel Banks to open in Birmingham and the Black Country

The Trussell Trust and energy supplier npower are today launching the first ever Fuel Banks in Birmingham and the Black Country.

Based in Foodbanks at B30 (Pershore Road), Smethwick and Kingfisher, the scheme gives Foodbank users with pre-payment meters vouchers for gas or electricity, so they do not have to choose between ‘heating and eating’.

Because the scheme gives people around two weeks’ worth of energy, the value of the voucher will fluctuate between the winter and summer months: from April to the end of October, the value will be £30m and this will increase to £49 between 1st November to 31st March.

First launched in April 2015 with the Trussell Trust, National Energy Action (NEA) and Durham Christian Partnership, the npower Fuel Bank™ has so far been trialled in four areas (Kingston on Thames, Durham, Gloucestershire and the Wirral) and is now being rolled out more widely to ten new locations, including three Foodbanks in Birmingham and the Black Country.

Between April 2015 and March 2016, these three Foodbanks together distributed over 12,300 three-day emergency food supplies to local people in crisis, around 5,000 of which were given to children*.

Before making the decision to extend the scheme, npower commissioned NEA, the UK fuel poverty charity, to undertake an evaluation of the scheme. In-depth interviews with a sample of people who had been helped by the npower Fuel Bank found that many were from households with dependent children, while almost a third said someone in their home suffered from ill health or a condition made worse by the cold. The inability to afford adequate power interrupted ordinary family life which in turn made conditions such as stress and anxiety worse**. 

Clare*** a mother of two young children and a client of the B30 Foodbank said: “My partner and I live in a first floor flat with our two boys. We have to keep our home warm because of my disability - and damp conditions in the flat mean that we have a weekly heating bill of £60, which we struggle to pay. Having the voucher has been a life-saver as I’ve been able to keep healthy and heat our home, cook hot meals and keep the children warm.

Helen Gale, part of the management team at the B30 Foodbank, said: “This is a wonderful partnership and gives us the opportunity to support low income families or people who are struggling with day to day living costs. The Fuel Bank allows us to give that immediate help. It’s not just topping up their gas and electric, it’s giving them their dignity back: they’re able to go home and have a hot meal, have a hot shower, as well as heat their homes.”

Gareth Brown, Director of Smethwick Church Action Network, the charity that manages Smethwick Foodbank, said, “When we started the Foodbank we never expected to unearth such a high level of need. On occasions we have had people who come to the Foodbank unable to take items that require heating because of low income. The additional help provided through the npower Fuel Bank and other initiatives such as the ‘Eat Well Spend Less’ course, Smethwick CAN Cook, Debt Advice and Job Support gives us a range of support initiatives that will help tackle long term poverty across Smethwick.”

Attending the launch at B30 Foodbank, Steve McCabe MP said:

“I think this is a great initiative to help support some of the most vulnerable people and families in our community. I don’t believe that anyone should have to choose between heating and eating particularly given that the UK is one of the richest countries in the world but unfortunately this is a situation that many people on low incomes face. Having met with some of the people that are accessing the fuel bank it’s clear that this makes a real difference to their lives.”

Guy Esnouf, npower’s Director of Corporate Responsibility said,“ Our first step was to trial the Fuel Bank in four areas last year. This proved the concept works - getting the right support to the people who need it most. We’re now expanding to ten new areas  including three in Birmingham and the Black Country meaning we can reach thousands more people in crisis.”

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