The voice of the energy industry

Energy and Mental Health

Natan Doron reports on the launch event for the new Money Advice Trust report on energy & mental health commissioned by the Energy UK vulnerability group.

At any time, any one of us could be affected by mental health problems. One in six of the UK population report having a common mental disorder (such as anxiety or depression) in any week, while one in four will experience a mental health problem each year.

It is vital that as a society we do much more to respond the challenge presented by the scale of poor mental health. That’s why at Energy UK we’re proud to have worked with the Money Advice Trust to launch Vulnerability, mental health, and the energy sector: a guide to help identify and support consumers.

This new report on energy & mental health is the first major output from the Energy UK vulnerability group – a special forum set up by Energy UK in January 2017 for energy suppliers to discuss the challenges and possible solutions presented by consumer vulnerability. The report is designed to help energy companies better identify and support consumers in vulnerable circumstances by providing practical tools for frontline staff to use with consumers in a range of vulnerable situations.

We held a launch event at Energy UK to discuss the report and its implications. On the panel and in the room we had participation from the full range of suppliers (larger, medium and smaller), Citizens Advice, Money Advice Trust, NEA, Ofgem, Stepchange and representatives from other key organisations like Housing Associations. The number of participants in the room reflected the seriousness with which energy companies treat the issue of mental health.

Amie Harding from British Gas, whose work on making the company a dementia-friendly workplace was recognised in a Young Energy Professionals award, spoke on the panel and conceded that energy companies do not have all the answers. It is precisely because of this that we sought the expertise of an organisation like the Money Advice Trust. The vulnerability team that Amie works in at British Gas has been busy working with partners like Mind and the Alzheimer’s Society and Amie pointed to the new report on energy & mental health as a crucial challenge to her team to take their work even further.

Simon Crine from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute praised what he called the ‘intensely practical’ nature of the report’s recommendations and urged companies to use data to analyse and respond to the behaviour of consumers in vulnerable situations. Mette Isaksen from Citizens Advice highlighted the extent of the overlap between mental health and debt. 7 in 10 of those people who seek help from Citizens Advice have experienced problems with mental health in the last year.

Joanna Elson from the Money Advice Trust provided an overview of the report as well as her insight into trends such as rising consumer debt and the uncertainty of Brexit which have led to increased demand for the National Debtline. Mette Isaksen highlighted that poor wage growth and insecure work would combine only to exacerbate the consumer debt problem in the UK. Amie Harding felt that energy suppliers were aware of problems for consumers and that more support is available than ever before - the challenge is partly identifying those consumers most in need.

A key aspect of the discussion revolved around the concept of ‘organisational empathy’ - people who work for energy companies are automatically empathetic because they’re human. We’ve all had experiences - whether personally or through friends and family - of mental health problems and vulnerability. What is needed is for organisations to give frontline staff the training and flexibility to identify and respond to the needs of customers in vulnerable situations.

The discussion ended with panelists agreeing the need for greater collaboration both within the energy sector and through partnering with colleagues in finance, water and telecomms. Here at Energy UK we’ll be doing all we can to promote the need for public and private organisations to do more to better support people with mental health problems.

All proceeds raised from our energy & mental health report launch event were donated to the Rethink Mental Illness charity. You can read about their work here: https://www.rethink.org/

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