[09.03.21] Guest article-Fighting energy poverty during a pandemic – Findings from the STEP project

By Cezara Popovici, Energy Project Coordinator, BEUC 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes: one thing that has not changed due to this pandemic, however, is energy poverty. Energy poverty is an issue that is more common than might think. Heating and cooling is a basic need, but one which many people in Europe struggle with. A staggering one in ten people currently suffer from energy poverty Europe-wide. The phenomenon is still so widespread in Europe that it prompted the creation of the BEUC-coordinated STEP project (Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty) under the H2020 framework. The project brings together consumer organisations from the European countries worst affected by energy poverty to find creative solutions to tackle the issue.  

Before COVID-19 struck, partners were advising energy-poor consumers face-to-face and in-person on simple, energy-efficient measures to help reduce the cost of energy bills. This ranged from helping people to block draughts using simple DIY methods, fix leaking taps or embrace more energy efficient behaviour to keep on top of their energy consumption. Lockdowns throughout Europe turned this model on its head, just as the need for energy advice became more important than ever. Many people have lost their jobs or taken pay cuts due to the economic fallout from the pandemic. Most people are or have been confined to their homes because of lock-down measures and teleworking and so are spending more money on energy than normal.  
Spending more time at home as a result of lockdown measures could make matters worse. Total energy consumption has declined as large sections of the economy have shut down, but domestic consumption has actually increased, meaning many consumers were in for a shock when receiving their energy bills. Price comparison site uSwitch estimates that extra time spent at home – for both work and leisure activities – will cost the average UK energy consumer an extra £16 (€17.94) per month. In Portugal, consumers are spending up to an extra €25 per month on electricity. 

The STEP project partners have risen to the challenge by developing new ways to deliver advice and training. We have taken to social media and remote engagement with other local support services to make both clients and front-line workers aware of our services. We have developed e-learning courses for front line workers and clients. We have organised webinars on particular energy topics for advice staff. And, critically, we have moved most of our face-to-face advice to telephone advice from advisers’ homes. In Cyprus and in Slovakia our partners are looking into using printed materials sent by post in combination with follow-up calls for example. 

In the UK, Citizens Advice has developed training modules for both energy poverty advisors and consumers. For front-line workers, this is a course designed to support vulnerable people in their day-to-day work and who want to know more about supporting their clients on using energy in the home. For consumers, there is also a course on using energy in the home, saving money and improving comfort. 

Meanwhile, in Portugal, consumer group DECO has started developing training modules for advisors in Portuguese and other modules are to follow shortly. More modules will soon be available in Greek, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, Lithuanian and Latvian. Sign up to the STEP newsletter to keep informed. 

The STEP project might be beginning to draw to a close, but the fight against energy poverty goes on. With no end to the pandemic in sight just yet and with Europe still in the grips of winter, STEP has also produced a series of YouTube videos with practical tips on energy saving and efficiency (that will soon be translated into all partner languages) to help consumers in energy poverty see the light at the end of the tunnel.  

Learn about the project: www.stepenergy.eu/