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A major milestone for a remarkable part of our network 


Celebrating 10 years of going that bit extra to help people with energy bills

Many of you may not know that Citizens Advice Scotland is the home of an essential service that supports people in vulnerable circumstances across Scotland, England and Wales and which is just about to celebrate its 10th anniversary under our stewardship. 

The Extra Help Unit (EHU) is a statutory service dedicated to supporting people who have problems with their energy supplier, eg bills, debts, problem meters and service issues. The CAB itself can resolve many of the simpler cases but the EHU is for those more complicated situations where the person requires, well, extra help.     

If someone is in crisis over their energy bills it can really destroy their lives. When people reach the EHU they are often distressed, fatigued and embarrassed that they can’t afford their bills. 

Over the past decade the Unit has handled over 170,000 complex cases, securing over £27 million in direct financial gain for its clients. I’m immensely proud of all of our staff – past and present. Their unwavering dedication and drive to deliver our service with extraordinary empathy and sensitivity is evident in the feedback we get from consumers, with over 90% being happy with the overall quality of service and comments such as "I can honestly say, they saved my life". 

And helping people in crisis is not the EHU’s only role. Like the CAB network as a whole, we gather data from that casework and use that unique knowledge of peoples’ lived experience to advocate for meaningful changes in the energy market. Working in collaboration with others is key to achieving change and the EHU holds quarterly supplier liaison meetings which is attended by our policy colleagues across the UK and Scottish governments to raise awareness of energy trends. The EHU also works closely with Ofgem, the energy regulator, to provide evidence and unique insights into the poor performance of energy suppliers.

This advocacy work has contributed to a number of compliance investigations and reviews of industry-wide policies such as back-billing, and more recently the EHU has evidenced the devastating increase in cases where consumers can’t afford to top up their prepayment meter, and the enforced installation of these meters.  

At its core, the EHU is a person-centred and inclusive service, striving every day to achieve positive outcomes for people in vulnerable circumstances. Through the tireless efforts of colleagues, it has championed the rights of every energy consumer in their time of vulnerability.

The unit continues to innovate. We’re currently working with Helpfirst to design technology that will help us prioritise our workloads, and we’ve already achieved an Inclusive Service Kitemark. Last year we won Energy Action Scotland’s Fuel Poverty Heroes Award and, as well as celebrating our 10th anniversary, I’m thrilled to announce that the EHU is a finalist in this year’s national Energy Awards, in the Energy Champion of the Year team category. That result will be announced on 3 July. Fingers crossed. It would certainly be well deserved.  

So, what with all that and our 10th birthday cake ready to have its candles lit, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating this very necessary Scottish-based organisation. Happy anniversary, EHU. Here's to another ten years of remarkable achievements, to the dedication and professionalism of the staff and to the countless lives they have transformed for the better.  

Natasha Gilmour is the head of the Extra Help Unit at Citizens Advice Scotland.

This column was first published in the Herald.



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