2020 has proved to be a challenging year for us all. Despite the difficulties we have all had to face, the Housing Executive has continued to work throughout this time to find ways to continue to support residents in Northern Ireland.
As the Home Energy Conservation Authority for Northern Ireland, we promote energy efficiency awareness and believe households should get the right energy advice that suits their specific circumstances.
As the Covid-19 lockdown period dominated the concerns of local families and restricted movement to the household dwelling itself, everyone had to spend much more time at home than we ever would have done before.
Consequently, this led to a major increase in the use of our household amenities; with a subsequent rise in energy and other utility bills for many local families.
While working from home looks likely to continue for the foreseeable future, part of the ominous Covid-19 ‘new normal’, our Energy Advice team has been working tirelessly towards finding the best ways that we can help local people save both energy and money.
New NI Energy Advice service launched
In August, we officially launched our new and refreshed NI Energy Advice Service, bringing the facility in-house after 20 years of great service by Bryson Energy. Beginning in April as the lockdown began to bite, advice and guidance online was provided to over 700 people over the period of the shutdown.
This advice is free, impartial and available to all local householders and assists local families searching for the best ways to conserve energy in their homes and building better budgeting.
Initially this advice was provided online through our website, but now a new advice line is in place, extending the service to even more local residents and providing all the necessary guidance on constructive use of energy at home.
A live, interactive broadcast marked the launch of the new service and this was streamed to an invited audience of dozens of local stakeholders and community groups.
Events speakers included, the Chair and other representatives from the Housing Executive, David Polley, Director, Department for Communities, John French, CEO, The Consumer Council and Dr Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.
Siobhan McCauley, the Housing Executive’s Director of Regional Services, opened the event and explained why the organisation now funds and operates the Energy Advice Service.
She said: “We have a statutory duty to promote energy efficiency and advice to all Northern Ireland’s householders and with the refreshed NI Energy Advice Service we want to ensure all householders are able to have easy accessible free impartial advice that will help people save money on their energy bills and reduce their carbon footprint.”
We need to move to reduce the carbon burden associated with housing and we need improve our level of resilience to adverse climate events.
Shared ambitions and collective effort on climate change
Housing Executive Chair, Professor Peter Roberts, told the audience of the importance of this service for Northern Ireland’s progress towards a more environmentally responsible and sustainable future.
He stated: “This refreshed service marks an increased emphasis on how we can deal with climate change and how all householders can gain access to a free, local and important source of advice.
“It informs us how we can improve the energy efficiency of our homes and how we can gain access to grants and other forms of assistance.”
Professor Roberts outlined how funding from the Department for Communities was enabling this advice service to be delivered by the Housing Executive, with close support from the Energy Savings Trust.
He also made reference to the “shared ambitions” of the Department for Communities, the Department for the Economy and the Housing Executive to work in partnership with grant providers and wider stakeholders “to deliver a growing service that meets our needs now and in the future”.
He stressed: “We want to enhance our environmental performance, meet the carbon challenge and reduce fuel poverty in Northern Ireland.
“We need to move to reduce the carbon burden associated with housing and we need to improve our level of resilience to adverse climate events.
“This new service, for me, is an essential part of our attempt to combat climate change, to help improve the life of households throughout Northern Ireland, and to make a really big positive contribution to the environment.
“There is no easy, instant solution here, what we need to do is to mobilise a collective effort, which gets us to where we need to be.”
Advice on grants for the home
As fuel poverty continues to affect many families in Northern Ireland, one of our key objectives, and that of our sponsoring department, the Department for Communities, is to tackle this.
In addition to advice on best energy practice, assistance is also provided on available, local energy efficiency grant funding to assist with future improvements to local homes.
We provide a signposting service to energy efficiency grants providers, such as the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP), the Department for Communities Boiler Replacement Scheme, plus a targeted Affordable Warmth Scheme.
These grants offer vital help to our vulnerable householders, to older people and those on low income, helping reduce the fuel poverty burden in local homes.
We also offer information on improving household insulation, switching energy supplier and even joining your local oil buying club.
All of these very positive initiatives have a direct impact on the budgets of local families.
Usually when new initiatives or services are launched, a flurry of leaflets and marketing materials are produced to raise awareness.
We wanted to leave a much longer lasting mark, and so instead, our team have purchased 400 native Irish saplings which will be planted in local woodlands.
When safe to do so, we hope to work with local schools, many of whom are committed to providing inspirational energy efficiency education to their students, to plant these saplings as a lasting legacy and help in the fight to reverse global climate change.
The NI Energy Advice Service is now live. To avail of this free and impartial service, call 0800 111 4455 or contact us through our ‘Get in Touch’ eform on our website nihe.gov.uk or by emailing NIenergyadvice@nihe.gov.uk