Smart Meter protocols need to reflect the needs of society rather than the needs of utility companies
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As the cost of living climbs ever higher there are measures that social housing organisations and housing associations controlling the allocation of the government’s Household Support fund can put in place to speed up the distribution of hardship funds. The ultimate aim is to help those vulnerable tenants keep up with their energy payments, and prevent them from slipping further into poverty, which will only exacerbate mental and physical problems for households.
According to the Trussel Trust, of the two and a half million people who have been using food banks, 320,000 started using them for the first time ever since April 2022.
Officially there are four million plus pre-payment meters installed in homes across the UK. The system for the distribution of hardship funds to those with pre-paid meters is well established – hardship vouchers are distributed through platforms such as the Charis Shop, and the householder takes this voucher to accredited payment points such as the Post Office or Paypoint where their accounts are topped up.
This winter is going to see millions more fall into fuel poverty and subsequently turn to their housing provider for hardship support in paying their bills. According to the National Energy Action forecasts this number is going to top eight million – that is nearly ten percent of the UK population.
This frightening number reflects the concerning fact that millions of households who have never before been in debt to their energy providers are now tumbling head first into the poverty trap. Having had smart meters fitted and paying their bills via monthly direct debit, the voucher system cannot be applied to smart meters, yet they will continue to experience the same anxieties around rising bills. The massive spike in gas and electric costs, and the recent removal of the price cap in April 2023, is going to place incredible pressure on ordinary tenants no matter how careful they are.
Charis identified a real need to create a new method by which the hardship funds allocated by the government to local authorities, social housing associations and housing charities could be distributed to vulnerable households.
With nearly two decades of experience in helping organisations administer funds, and with an online shop platform that could handle the expected increase in transactions, Charis teamed up with CleverCards to develop a Digital Payment Card, powered by Mastercard®, specifically to ease the hardship for those experiencing fuel poverty for the first time this winter.
Currently the Charis Shop has over 500 organisations distributing over £20 million worth of hardship funds, and we are already seeing a steep increase in demand going through our systems. We have built the technology to ensure that any increase in the coming months will ensure that distribution is not compromised by any slowing of the system, ensuring that the funds reach those in need as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
Distributed through the Charis Shop, organisations can input a householder’s eligibility criteria, and then make the payment via the Digital Payment Card directly to the beneficiary in one simple text message.
When the beneficiary receives the text message, they see an image of a payment card that looks just like a Mastercard. They must click the image to activate the card and release the CVC number, and the card details can then be used to pay their heating and energy bills online in the same way they would use a credit card.
And while the distribution is quick and easy, the Charis Shop also ensures that the back end reporting and auditing is all maintained as is required by legislation. It is all too easy for an increase in the volume of demand to compromise the level of attention required for proper record keeping. Through the Charis Shop, all the back end functionality is carried out as a matter of course, whether you are distributing £100,000, or £10 million.
Heating bills are going to be rising astronomically over the coming months, but there are millions of pounds worth of hardship funds out there – it’s simply a case of knowing how to get those funds where they need to be as quickly and as cheaply as possible, so that millions of families can get through the winter months in a modicum more comfort.