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SPEECH: Christine McGourty, Corporate Affairs Director, speaks at the British Gas 'Getting Ready for Winter' Parliamentary Reception

A key priority for us is helping our customers stay warm and safe during the winter. So today I'd like to talk to you about three important areas where support is available for your constituents.

The first of these is energy efficiency. It's a striking fact that £1 in every £4 spent on heating is wasted due to poor insulation. Fixing these leaky homes, with energy efficiency measures, is crucial to helping people spend less on their energy bills and to have warmer, more comfortable homes.

At British Gas, in the past six years, we've insulated the homes of more than three million customers. But over 12 million homes in Britain are still without adequate loft and cavity wall insulation. We are committed to tackling this problem. And one important way we are achieving this is through the Government’s Energy Company Obligation, or ECO.

I've seen firsthand the transformational effect that these schemes can have on homes and communities. No doubt many of you have too.

We're already delivering many schemes across Britain - working alongside local authorities and housing associations - to install insulation and heating improvements, including external solid wall insulation and district heating.

And because we work with local partners we are able to have a long-term impact on the community beyond making homes more energy efficient - creating jobs and supporting the local supply chain.

For today though, I think the most important message about ECO is on free insulation. British Gas is now offering free loft and cavity wall insulation. Nine out of ten households that need insulation can get it free from British Gas.

Some research we carried out recently that showed that very few people believe their home qualifies for free insulation. But it is actually available to 90% of homes that need it and we would love everyone in this room to help us get that message out there - to ensure people aren’t missing out.

The second area where British Gas offers support is the service for our more vulnerable customers.

We're committed to providing the best service possible to our customers, and especially those with specific requirements.

We offer practical assistance to vulnerable customers through our dedicated ‘Here to Help’ team. There's a range of services:

  • like free gas safety checks;
  • priority assistance in case of a boiler breakdown;
  • relocating meters to make them more accessible;
  • alternative formats for bills like large print or Braille
  • and also a nominee scheme, so if customers don’t feel confident dealing with their own account, then they can name someone to do it on their behalf.
There are more details about this help in the packs available here today. And I would urge you to ask any of your constituents who you think might benefit, to call us and register for these services.

British Gas spent £380m last year helping 1.8 million of our most vulnerable customers.

We have the widest eligibility criteria for the Warm Homes Discount scheme, and in 2013 we gave over half a million customers a £135 rebate on their energy bill.

That amounts to over £74 million off the electricity bills of the people least able to pay. The discount has risen to £140 this year and we expect that the number of people claiming it from us will increase further.

However we know that our responsibility is about more than just delivering obligated schemes.

So the third area I want to touch on today is the work we do to invest in local communities, helping to build long-term support networks that will offer help and advice today but also for years to come.

And it is precisely this kind of work that is carried out by the British Gas Energy Trust . And that's why we are so proud to have supported the Trust over the last decade and will continue to do so.

Since 2004, British Gas has donated over £75 million to the Trust and this money has been put to fantastic use.

In the last ten years, the Trust has helped over 120,000 families and individuals in need, providing grants to help people clear debts and advice for improving energy efficiency and money management.

The work that the Trust and its partners are doing to provide grants and crucial advice to people is making a huge difference to people’s lives up and down the country - whether the advice is on benefits checks, budgeting or energy efficiency. All are key steps towards reducing energy bills and help reduce the likelihood of getting into debt in the future.

To reach more individuals and families in need the Trust now provides funding to 16 debt advice centres across Britain, working with a range of organisations including Citizens Advice Bureau, Shelter Services and a range of independent organisations, many of whom are with us here today.

I was delighted to see for myself last week the fantastic work of the Bromley-by-Bow community centre in Tower Hamlets, which receives Trust funding. And I’m also delighted to say that we will soon be opening our 17th debt advice centre in Wrexham, working with Shelter Cymru.

Funding from the Trust has allowed the recruitment of over 50 energy advisors to help people fill in grant application forms, provide energy efficiency and fuel debt advice and refer people for further help.

We're very pleased and proud to be marking the Trust's 10th Anniversary today.

The work of the British Gas Energy Trust - and the debt centres, many of whom are also represented here today - is playing a crucial part in ensuring the right help and advice gets to those who need it most.

But we know that there's much more to do. That's why we're continuing to innovate, partnering with new and different organisations to reach as many people as we can.

This year for example, advisers have started to work with GPs and health professions and will provide help to patients whose health is affected by living in a cold, damp home or who are suffering stress due to being in debt or living in vulnerable circumstances.

We have also recently launched a communities programme worth £1 million with National Energy Action. Our Community Action Partnership will see third parties and local authorities across eight regions coming together to tackle fuel poverty through energy efficiency, behaviour change and fuel debt advice to continue to help people who are in fuel poverty or very close to it.

We believe partnerships like this will enable us all to get help to where it’s needed most. And that’s really why we’re here today. We hope that many of you here can continue to play an important role in getting that message out. Thank you.

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