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THAW Orkney: Supporting Islanders With Their Energy Costs

“The most significant increase the staff team has seen is in emergency electricity vouchers. In the financial year 2019-20 THAW Orkney issued vouchers worth just over £6000. ” Rhoda Walker, THAW Orkney Chair

Over £320,000 has been secured by THAW Orkney in the past year to help folk throughout the islands with their energy costs, maximise their income, or improve their heating systems in a bid to make their homes more affordable to heat. 

In a year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and the associated impact on jobs and income, over £50,000 of emergency electricity vouchers, grants to help to clear energy debt, or Warm Home Discount has been secured by THAW Orkney as folk struggled to heat their homes or have electricity to cook food. 

THAW Orkney chair Rhoda Walker said:

“The most significant increase the staff team has seen is in emergency electricity vouchers. In the financial year 2019-20 THAW Orkney issued vouchers worth just over £6000. This year that figure is £28,868 for vouchers alone. Added to that is over £2500 of awards from the Fuel Bank Foundation’s heat fund, which paid for oil tank fills or solid fuel for clients, and almost £4000 of Warm Home Discount secured for clients. 

“But the most phenomenal boost for folk has come through the Scottish Government’s Home Heating Support Fund, which has allowed us to secure over £18,000 of awards for some of our most vulnerable clients in just one month. This was a £4 million fund announced by the Scottish Government in late February, with the statement that no household should suffer in fuel poverty or have to ration fuel to get by. As it closed on 31 March, it has been a focus of our work in the past month, and to great effect, clearing debts for clients and giving them a bit of breathing space on their energy bills. 

“It was great that this fund recognised that awards could be made to any households in remote, rural, or island communities, to reflect the higher energy costs that we face. 

“This massive increase in demand for support has come as folk have spent longer periods at home – either furloughed or working from home – and as families have had children at home when schools and nurseries have been closed. This all adds to energy usage and costs, and electricity prices continue to rise far ahead of income, hitting folk hard.” 

The charity, based in Kirkwall but with staff working from home across Orkney, has found help for over 1000 new or existing clients in the past 12 months, with the majority of these coming during the first lockdown period and then over the past winter. 

Over 130 Cosy Home Packs have been issued with:

  • thermal blankets
  • hats and gloves
  • oil-filled radiator
  • low-energy bulbs
  • thermal mugs
  • a damp trap.

Items such as draught excluders, hot water tank jackets or chimney balloons can also be included as required. 

Referrals to THAW Orkney during the year have come from:

  • Orkney Foodbank (THAW Orkney now administers electricity vouchers to help folk cook the food they receive)
  • Orkney Islands Council (OIC)
  • Orkney Housing Association Ltd (OHAL)
  • NHS Orkney
  • Orkney Health and Care
  • Orkney Citizen’s Advice Bureau
  • Women’s Aid Orkney
  • Macmillan
  • CLAN
  • Orkney Blide Trust
  • Home Energy Scotland
  • Orkney Care and Repair
  • YPeople
  • Homestart
  • over 200 self-referrals. 

Clients come from all housing tenures, including homeowners, OIC tenants, OIC emergency housing tenants, OHAL tenants and sharing owners, private rented tenants, and those life rented in properties. 

Many of the new clients have required additional support, making full use of THAW Orkney’s Community Support service, which works closely with other agencies including the pilot Community Link Practitioners based in GP practices. 

Welfare Support Service

THAW Orkney’s Welfare Support service has seen significant income gains for clients throughout the year, including over £40,000 of Attendance Allowance secured, over £18,000 of Personal Independence Payments, £10,000 of Employment and Support Allowance, £7500 of debt written off, along with Council Tax reductions of over £2000. 

Aiming Beyond Cancer

At the same time as offering these frontline services to clients, THAW Orkney has again administered the SSE-funded Aiming Beyond Cancer programme, delivering 22 heating systems and 37 energy efficient white goods to clients who have an active cancer diagnosis. These clients are referred to THAW Orkney by CLAN and Macmillan, and by GP practices, as well as some self-referrals. 

Rhoda Walker paid tribute to the THAW staff team, which – like so many other organisations – transformed from office-based to working from home, in Birsay, Papa Westray, Shapinsay, Deerness, and Kirkwall, with minimal staff in the office. 

She said:

“During the year we had four new members of staff come in and be trained up, but with the support of the existing staff and trustees during that challenging period of transition they kept delivering support to folk across Orkney. The help that Team THAW has accessed for folk has been greatly appreciated. 

“One client responding to a staff member after receiving a Home Heating Support Fund award said ‘you’re my guardian angel who has literally changed my life. Makes me so happy and safer to know the electricity debt has gone. It’s so lovely having a guardian angel.’ 

“I think that sums up the kind of positive impact the service is having on folk right now.” 

To find out how THAW Orkney can help you click on the link: THAW Orkney

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