Utility Week

UTILITY Week 29th January 2016

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Page 28 of 31

UTILITY WEEK | 29TH JANUARY - 4TH FEBRUARY 2016 | 29 Customers Market view F ew will be able to forget the shocking footage of December's storms and sub- sequent flooding and the way it devas- tated parts of the North West. It is no longer headline news in the nation's media, or at least not until Storm Jonas has been weath- ered, but the recovery for many of those worst affected has barely got underway. To put it into perspective, there are some 6,500 flood-hit homes in Cumbria alone. The physical damage to homes and infra- structure will take many months to rectify, with KPMG estimating that the total cost will be in the region of £5.8 billion. The emo- tional toll on individuals is impossible to quantify. Many of those who did not have insur- ance are living in homes without heat or light. But even some of those who had poli- cies in place are discovering they are under- insured and unable to cover the full extent of the costs caused by the damage and subse- quent disruption to their lives. Ensuring these people receive swi prac- tical help and support is vital. That's why the organisation I head, Foun- dations Independent Living Trust (FILT), established an emergency fund in December. The FILT Floods Fund and Appeal is using £200,000 of the charity's current £1 million programme – funded by energy company redress fines – to enable home improvement agencies on the frontline to carry out the task at hand in areas such as Carlisle, Wyre and Fylde and Lancaster. Although the initial response was focused on ensuring people were safe and arranging temporary accommodation, the attention is now switching to the long-term task of mak- ing homes habitable again. Home improve- ment agencies will gradually take low income households affected by the floods through a stage-by-stage process from drying out properties to stripping out the damage and finally reinstating everything from floor- ing to plasterwork to utilities. The response by agencies has been rapid and highly effective, despite many of them having difficulties of their own. For example, Homelife Carisle, run by Carlisle City Coun- cil, was flooded out of its own offices until January. Staff worked remotely, visiting prop- erties door to door to ensure people were safe, to gauge the level of support required and start the process of planning provision over the coming months. The FILT Floods Fund is an excellent example of how Ofgem redress fines can be efficiently channelled to vulnerable peo- ple in times of crisis. It is testament to the well-established hub and spoke model that operates between FILT as a national charity and the locally based, not-for-profit home improvement agencies that make up a net- work of 200 organisations across England. In the past this relationship has enabled us to roll out crisis measures to alleviate cold, damp homes to thousands of low-income households in partnership with a number of the big six energy suppliers. Home improvement agencies are tailor- made for coming to the aid of people in the aermath of floods. They are experienced in working with vulnerable people who are dealing with a multitude of issues and who can oen feel overwhelmed by their circum- stances. Also, they are viewed as trusted organisations in the communities they serve. Carrying out repairs and other practical tasks is just one aspect of their role. They are also helping people to get back on their feet by ensuring they get the support they need, such as debt advice. It reflects the "sin- gle point of contact" approach that home improvement agencies take to avoid clients being bombarded with calls and house vis- its. All in all, it is expected that 27 per cent of FILT-funded programmes this year will be used to support home improvement agen- cies' efforts to help people on low incomes in flood-affected areas. But the reality is that many agencies already had a full caseload before Storm Des- mond did its damage. Coping with the level of additional demand in Cumbria, Lancashire and other areas will take more resources to meet than the £200,000 set aside by FILT. The charity has appealed to older peo- ple across the country to consider donating their winter fuel payments to the FILT Floods Fund as well as encouraging donations from a wide range of sources. But this is a void that's ideal for utility companies to fill by directing their corporate social responsibility programmes and similar initiatives towards helping those most in need. Reinstating electricity supplies and ensuring homes are safe, warm and dry are among the key requirements. The devasta- tion has also provided an opportunity to both protect properties against the impact of future flooding and to retrofit better energy efficiency measures. These are themes that ought to chime with the broader social pri- orities of any utility business Andy Chaplin, chief executive of Foundations Independent Living Trust (FILT) After the floods Long after the headlines have faded, homeowners devastated by floods are still piecing their lives back together. Fortunately, help is at hand – and utilities can help the helpers, says Andy Chaplin. Drying out a home and reinstating plasterwork can take months

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