by Mike Thornton, Director, Scotland, Energy Saving Trust

Just down the road from where I live, at most 100 feet above sea level and less than a mile from the sea, there is still snow. Banks of snow, piled up in a school car park at the beginning of the big freeze, which started here in Edinburgh on 23 December, are still there, albeit much diminished and slowly melting.  It is not a coincidence that ever since this snow fell our network of Energy Saving Scotland Advice Centres has been the busiest it has ever been.

As the cold weather lasted and bit ever deeper, more and more people in Scotland dialled the Freephone number for assistance. Many wanted help because they foresaw high heating bills which they could afford to pay but, like all of us, wanted to minimise.  Others however, sought help because they couldn’t afford to heat their homes to a reasonable level of comfort – these are the fuel poor. In Scotland the route to the Scottish Government’s flagship Energy Assistance Package for the fuel poor is through the advice centre number – it’s the gateway to energy advice, referrals for benefits checks and social fuel tariffs and for free insulation, heating systems and other measures for those eligible. So it was no surprise that the network was taking up to 2000 calls a day; we extended their opening hours into the evenings and weekends to meet demand.  And unlike the snow, this demand has not largely melted away as the weather improved. We are still very busy indeed; people know there will be more cold weather to endure before the winter is over.

Winter cold is a strong motivator to call the network and it is satisfying to be able to help people. But there is also a pointer to a desired future in this frenetic activity.  The Energy Saving Trust aspires to engage with every household in Scotland and in the UK and support them in saving money, energy and carbon. We need to succeed in doing so to help meet climate change targets. The advice network’s reach is growing; a year ago, 500 calls was a busy day for the network; now it’s a quiet day if we don’t take more than 1000 calls. But we need to raise our game still further for years to come: to reach our goal we probably need to deal with 2000 calls a day, every day, for a decade. So visiting one of the centres when call numbers were at their highest, hearing very busy yet calm advisors providing professional and useful advice, talking to callers about their circumstances and referring them for relevant services, I was struck by the fact that I was seeing the network’s future and it was ready for the challenge.

Alex Neil, Minister for Housing and Communities listening in to a call when visiting an advice centre at the end of JanuaryAlex Neil, Minister for Housing and Communities listening in to a call when visiting an advice centre at the end of January

“I had heard about the Energy Assistance Package when it was launched…. And knew they wanted to hear from people like me; someone with a young family.  I contacted the helpline and with some support from the advisor who guided me through the application process, we received a new boiler and new radiators.  It has been brilliant and the whole process was faultless."

Tracey Corrigan, Energy Assistance Package customer