The Covid-19 emergency hit the Isle of Wight, with all its accompanying restrictions, towards the end of March 2020. For The Footprint Trust it meant a radical change in their working practices. The charity was aware that the most effective help they give most of fuel poor clients, was a home visit, at which tailored guidance is given. Clearly home visits would be very unwise, and would help spread the disease and could endanger clients and staff health. Following the announcement from the Prime Minister on Tuesday March 23rd, all home visits ceased, and staff took on the job of contacting by phone the dozens of people on their database.
Each person called was given guidance on how to join the Priority Service Register, and where appropriate the Isle of Wight Council Covid helpline (01983 823600) for those self- isolating but who had nobody to get food and medicines for them. Staff also suggested that vulnerable people on pre-payment meters should contact their energy supplier, if they had difficulty in getting a neighbour, friend or relative to top-up their card or ‘key’.
Thanks to funding from People’s Postcode Trust, a grant giving charity funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, during the crisis The Footprint Trust is keeping its helpline open, 01983 822282. It is answered by a members of staff working in isolation. Other members of staff are working from home, and contacting people on our waiting list, or those we have helped in the past. Those clients struggling are given the Council’s helpline number or the number of a relevant local organisation. In some cases there details are passed onto the Council directly, due to safeguarding issues.
The lockdown started just as the Trust was coming to the end of the traditional winter busy period. Most of their fuel poverty related enquiries happen during the colder months. This has meant that as a temporary measure they have furloughed certain members of staff.
“We are now planning for the next winter. The government has predicted that the general downturn in the economy will continue for sometime after Covid has passed, and that unemployment will rise, and by implication poverty will also rise…” said Trustee Don Roe.
Many Islanders rely on seasonal tourism employment and that has all been lost. The Island economy will have lost millions during the lockdown. Many local people will not get paid or will be on reduced income. They will make the choice of eating or heating for the first time in their lives. The Trust believes that fuel, water and other debt will dramatically increase. For those on the Isle of Wight, already an area of higher than average poverty, this will see a demand for their services and those of other local charities.
“The Footprint Trust is ready for a rush of desperate enquiries in the forthcoming winter. We will help local people manage their fuel and water debt, use utilities wisely and stay in budget.”