Warm homes service points way for future

Published on Monday, 27 January 2014 09:46
Written by Vicki Mitchem

A service designed to protect vulnerable people from the dangers of cold homes has proved highly effective in delivering targeted support quickly and efficiently, according to a new report.

Baroness Andrews, who launched the evaluation of FILT Warm Homes Service, said the findings should be used to shape the way fuel poverty is tackled in the future and provides important lessons on improving health through prevention and early intervention in poorly heated homes.

The report was unveiled at an event in Westminster that was supported by leading figures including housing campaigner Lord Best, representatives from government departments and senior figures from the energy, property and charity sectors.

Last winter FILT Warm Homes Service helped more than 6,000 people across 160 local authority areas of England in the space of just five months. Funded by almost £500,000 from the Department of Health, it was led by Foundations and run by its charitable arm Foundations Independent Living Trust (FILT) together with nearly 60 local home improvements agencies (HIAs).

Professor Angela Tod and Jan Gilbertson from Sheffield Hallam University, who led the evaluation, explained how the service provided information, advice and practical help to keep older and vulnerable people warm and well.

The report found HIAs were "fast and responsive" both in reaching people and in getting essential work done during the cold weather. Charlotte Buckley, a deputy director at the Department of Health, said the evaluation provided "powerful evidence... of positive impact for such a small amount of funding". She also praised as "very impressive" the initiative's flexibility, speed and partnership work.

As well as home advice, many benefitted from low-cost work such as boiler servicing, draught proofing and radiator valves. These are inexpensive jobs which had a "big impact" according to the report, and which often get neglected when household budgets are stretched.

As a result, vulnerable people – many of whom had long-term conditions and who might otherwise have received no support – enjoyed warmer homes but also reduced their chances of suffering worsening health, avoided hospital admissions and improved their physical and mental wellbeing.

The event heard how the service provides lessons for a wide range of policymakers who are trying to identify and meet the needs of vulnerable people.

"This has real implications and is a real opportunity for those concerned with fuel poverty, with vulnerable/low-income households, with health and wellbeing – and with commissioning under the Better Care Fund," said Baroness Andrews, who is chair of FILT.

Sheffield Hallam University's report highlights the need for commissioners to examine FILT Warm Homes Service "and the benefits their model can deliver". Under their assessment of economic value the report's authors identified that at least £2.10 had been levered in from outside sources for every £1 invested in the service by the Department of Health.

Policymakers and influencers at the meeting highlighted the need to link the lessons from the initiative to the wider policy environment. Anita Longley, head of corporate responsibility at energy firm RWE npower, which provides funding to the charity, said: "I am really proud of our relationship and our partnership with FILT."

Andy Chaplin, director of Foundations, said: "We believe there are really valuable lessons to take from this initiative, such as the importance of a trust-based relationship with the funder which in turn enables us to concentrate on delivery and reaching some of the most vulnerable with what are often very small enhancements to the home circumstances. Our local touch points with quality assured local HIA delivery points and our systems mean we are able to provide backers with an audit trail on money well spent."

Source: FILT

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