Congratulations to Dr Jonathan Smith and Sophia Reid on winning a national Heat Hero Award. Thank you for all your work supporting East Durham residents to tackle fuel poverty Grahame Morris MP
Grahame Morris MP

Heat Hero Award Winners

Sophia Reid

Sophia is an Energy Caseworker at Citizens Advice County Durham, supporting countless cases often saving up to thousands of pounds for clients. She was also involved in a case where the client was in a real state of turmoil and his neighbour confided in her that before her intervention, the client had written his ‘goodbye’ letter which she found. Upon supporting the client to appeal ESA,PIP and Council Tax whilst also getting the client access to a hardship fund, food vouchers and Warm Homes Discount – the client had total financial gains of £13, 676.07 and admitted that it was her actions that probably saved him from suicide.

Dr Jonathan Smith

Jonathan is a GP at Silverdale Family Practice and Clinical Chair of the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group. For the past two years, he has been GP Practice lead for partnership working on the Council’s Warm Homes Campaign., fuel poverty awareness sessions for GP surgery staff, Warm Homes promotions within the surgery waiting room for patients and offered advice regarding energy switching and home insulation grants. He has also sent mail-outs from the GP practice doctors to patients with COPD or asthma. He has been instrumental in making key linkages with the Clinical Commissioning Group to roll out the project to other GP surgeries.

Tackling Fuel Poverty

Fuel poverty occurs when a household cannot afford to maintain an internal household temperature adequate for the health and wellbeing of the occupants (21c). In County Durham 33,500 (14 per cent) of households are in fuel poverty.

Between April 2018 and September 2019, the council’s Housing Solutions Team co-ordinated and delivered a range of intervention programmes to tackle fuel poverty across the county.

The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act introduced a national fuel poverty strategy funded by the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) at £1.9b up to 2022.

The council’s Affordable Warmth Strategy and Action Plan co-ordinates the delivery of local and national fuel poverty intervention programmes to provide vulnerable residents with warmer, healthier homes and reduced energy costs.

Between April 2018 and September 2019, more than £3.08m of external funding has been secured in County Durham to assist 1,389 fuel poor households who received ECO grants for new oil or gas boilers and cavity wall loft insulation measures.

The league table for fuel poverty grant uptake from the Department of Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) shows the council is eighth nationally due to the actions it has taken to tackle fuel poverty.

The County Durham Warm Homes campaign, managed by the housing solutions team, co-ordinates countywide promotions of fuel poverty intervention programmes. It promotes uptake and awareness and provides support for fuel poor households. Countywide mail-outs in partnership with the council’s revenues and benefits service are just one of the ways in which grants are promoted to vulnerable households.

The housing solutions team has worked with public health on the following fuel poverty and health intervention projects.

  • Managing Money Better (MMB) – part of the Warmer Homes initiative, the service assists households in switching to lower energy tariffs and switching energy providers. During 2018/19 MMB helped 386 households save more than £66,000 on their energy bills and fuel debt write off. In quarters one and two of 2019/20, a further 242 households received assistance from MMB saving a total of £56,690 off their energy bills. In recognition of this support to residents the MMB service received a national “Heat Hero” award from the national fuel poverty charity for the work to assist fuel poor households. The council is planning to extend the MMB service to assist more residents in County Durham and will be recruiting an additional officer in the following months.


  • Energy Company Obligation Flexible Health Criteria (ECO Flex) – ECO Flex provides low income households with grants for new oil or gas boilers, central heating and insulation measures to make their homes warmer and reduce their energy bills. In 2018/19, a total of 912 fuel poor households received energy efficiency measures equating to £2.6m of external grant funding. Government figures show this is the highest uptake in the north east and the council recently received an award in recognition. In quarters one and two of 2019/20, a further 452 households received boiler and insulation grants totalling £479,920 of external funding drawn down into County Durham.


  • GP mail-out – In 2018, the Durham Dales Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group agreed that all GP surgeries would work with the council’s Warm Homes Campaign to assist their patients with fuel poverty and cold related ill health. This has resulted in a rolling programme where GP surgeries write to their patients with COPD or asthma to offer advice and support from through the council’s Warm Homes team. To date, 388 patients have contacted the campaign for assistance.


  • Solid Wall Insulation Project – The solid wall innovation project received £2.5m of European funding and aims to provide 220 homes in the county with the latest technology in solid wall insulation.


  • Warm and Healthy Homes – This project supports low income households with grant assistance for boiler repairs and assistance with gap funding or any client contribution requirement for warmer homes. This funding is provided from the council and public health contributions.


  • Clinical Commissioning Group, Warm Homes champion – To ensure fuel poverty is embedded into CCG actions the council has recruited a Warm and Healthy Homes Champion from the CCG Patient Reference Group (PRG). The champion, who promotes fuel poverty grants from within GP practices, recently received an award for this work from the national fuel poverty charity. The council hopes to recruit warm homes champions from other GP practices and has begun work with the Patient Reference Groups to commence recruitment.


  • Housing and Health Matrix – This uses countywide housing data from the fuel poverty database, housing condition database and health data to assess the localities with the worst housing and health conditions. This matrix is currently being used to assist with the GP mail out.


  • Funding opportunities – The housing solutions team has successfully bid for £2.2m of funding to install fully funded central heating measures in the homes of low-income private residents with ill health. The funding will also allow the joint working with GP surgeries to continue and expand using the existing mechanisms described in this report.
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