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OFGEM plans to tackle unscrupulous energy brokers are a welcome step in the right direction

For those of you who may have read one of my blogs before, you’ll probably know that I’m passionate about the fair treatment of not-for-profit organisations when it comes to buying their energy. Helping those businesses who do so much to help so many people who need it the most, is a privilege that we never take for granted at Utility Aid. Sadly, many other energy brokers don’t quite use the same lens.They are far too happy to simply rip off organisations who can ill-afford to be so significantly over-charged.

So, it is with tempered pleasure that I read about OFGEMs proposals to tackle unscrupulous energy brokers who provide services to the UK’s millions of microbusinesses. In any normal period of time, this would be welcome but, as we hopefully emerge from the pandemic, ensuring businesses get a fair service, for a fair price, has never been more important.Yet, this must be stage one. Our industry provides a financial service, so we should be regulated in the same way as others, such as investment firms and insurance businesses, are. Strict rules that ensure customers are treated fairly are a must.

And we are talking about big numbers here. According to data from the UK Government, there are over 5.6 million microbusinesses in the UK, which accounts for 96% of all businesses, equating to 33% of all employment. These proposals, if implemented, will have enormous, positive consequences for the UK economy.

I think it’s worth spelling out the details of the package of measures set out by OFGEM. They include the following:


Broker conduct principle: 

Introducing a principles-based requirement for suppliers to ensure brokers they work with conduct themselves appropriately.


Broker dispute resolution: 

Introducing a requirement for suppliers to only work with brokers signed up to an alternative dispute resolution scheme.


Informed contract choices: 

Applying targeted sales and marketing rules to suppliers and brokers they work with.


Broker commission transparency:

Clarifying and expanding existing supply licence obligations to provide information about broker commission payments on contracts, bills and account statements


Cooling-off period:

Introducing a 14-day cooling-off period for microbusiness contracts.


Contract extensions: 

Requiring suppliers to maintain existing contract rates for up to 30 days while a switch is being processed.


Banning notification requirements

Banning suppliers from requiring microbusinesses to provide notice of their intent to switch.

Information: 

OFGEM also intends working collaboratively with leading consumer groups to improve awareness raising materials and information provision. 

As you can see, it’s a raft of positive recommendations that, quite frankly, should already have been in place. As far as I am concerned, the more transparency we have in the market, the better. And, this should merely be stage one. Full and unequivocal regulation of the energy market is, quite simply, a must. Without regulation I worry that many organisations will continue to be taken advantage of by those who seem only too happy to plunder the coffers of those who do so much good. 

Now, more than ever, businesses need support and to be able to trust the providers they deal with. Please be assured, we will be doing all we can to lobby for the introduction of these proposals and the complete regulation of our industry.


Expand > 21 September 2020

Leading Energy Broker, Utility Aid, Appoints New Partnership Manager

 

The UK’s leading national utility broker, Utility Aid, has appointed Jacob Windsor as its new Partnerships Manager. Jacob will be responsible for all existing partnerships, as well as developing new opportunities. He joins Utility Aid from Tonik Energy, where he also looked after partnerships. 

 

Giles Hankinson, CEO of Utility Aid, commented on the appointment: “Jacob is an excellent hire for Utility Aid. We’ve put significant work into our offering over the last six months and we can’t wait to take the proposition to market. Jacob is the perfect person to lead this for us. Too many organisations pay significantly over the odds for their energy and that’s something we are determined to address. We focus on providing the very best energy deals for our customers, allowing them to retain as much of their money as they can to use on the front-line services they provide.”

 

Utility Aid are the UK’s lowest cost energy broker. They work predominantly with not-for-profit organisations. They are the only broker in the UK to deal with over 30 different energy suppliers, ensuring their customers always get the very best deal for them.

 

Commenting on his appointment, Jacob said: “I’m thrilled to be joining Utility Aid. They’re well known in our market as the leading energy broker, so it was an easy decision to join the team. They already have a good stable of partnerships for me to work with and their proposition is ideal for someone tasked with growing distribution. Most importantly, I love the passion they have for their clients. There is a genuine desire to do the very best for organisations who need it the most. I’m incredibly proud to say I now work for Utility Aid.”

 

Utility Aid offer their partners a number of different ways to work with them, ensuring all partnerships are set up for success. They have an active marketing department that provides partners with a large range of assets designed to win more customers. From content for website, to useful newsletters, and from social media posts, to support at any events they help make the most of the opportunity that working with them provides.


Expand > 15 September 2020

Getting back

To say the last few months have been challenging would be somewhat of an understatement. In all walks of life, what we do and how we approach the day has changed, mostly beyond all recognition. Amongst many things, the pandemic has made many of us realise that things that we used to take for granted can be taken from us without much warning.

 

There are many things I’ve personally missed, but there’s no doubt in my mind of what I’ve missed the most. People. Whether that’s in my personal life or at work, that basic desire to interact with other people has been taken away and I’ve felt that longing for people every single day.

 

Whilst there is undoubtedly some way to go before we return to normal, if indeed we ever will, the recent loosening of restrictions has ridden over the hill like a knight in very shiny armour. Catching up with friends and family has been a joy. I’m determined to never take those people and the time I spend with them for granted again.

 

One thing I’ve never taken for granted is how lucky I am to do what I do for work. Utility Aid, and the service we provide, is vital. We support not-for-profit organisations, helping them source their energy at the lowest possible cost, allowing them to keep as much of their money as possible to spend on the front-line services they provide.

 

Whilst at Utility Aid we’ve adapted to working from home and maintaining the service we provide, many of our customers have found the period of lockdown incredibly hard. I’m so very hopeful that, as restrictions begin to ease, they can get back to what they do best. Supporting people. 

 

And rest assured, we will be there every step of the way with them as we all adapt to the new normal. To our customers, we’ve got your back. If there’s anything we can do, all you need to do is ask. And if you’re not a customer of ours why not get in touch to see if we can help you save money. Now, more than ever, every penny counts.

 

I wish you all the very best in the coming weeks.


Expand > 17 July 2020

CEO, Giles Hankinson, celebrates carers across the country

It’s Carers week, and we’d like to say thank you

Given everything else that’s going on right now, you may be forgiven for not knowing that it is Carers Week. It’s an annual campaign that aims to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges unpaid carers face and recognise the often enormous contributions they make to their families and communities. Just imagine what they’ve been facing over the last few months, meeting the responsibilities in the most challenging of times. Some, for example, will have had to move into other people’s homes permanently, just to be able to provide the regular care they give.

Because of Covid 19 there is a real chance that this incredibly important issue may be missed.  It can’t be. We must all do all we can to raise awareness and offer support.

Whilst I have no significant experience of exactly what it takes to be a carer, I have been lucky enough to speak to some of the organisations we work with, so I do have some understanding of the responsibilities. They are an awful lot. Many carers spend every waking hour looking after someone, leaving no time for themselves. I couldn’t really imagine what it would be like to have no time to escape; to do something you simply wanted to do. I consider myself very lucky that I am able to do that. 

Many of the organisations we are privileged to call our customers work in the care sector, so it gives me great pleasure whenever we help them make savings on their energy procurement. I know that every single penny we save them can be reinvested into their frontline services, helping an incredibly worthy population of people get support, advice and some much needed time away from caring.

Quite staggeringly, the NHS believes that there are around 5.4 million people in England who provide unpaid care for a friend or family member. That’s nearly one in 10 people in this country who do it. I’m not sure many of us appreciate how significant that figure is and highlights unequivocally why Carers Week is crucial to raise awareness.

We’re proud to do a tiny bit towards supporting carers.  And to every single carer out there. We thank you for everything you do.


Expand > 11 June 2020

Are you overpaying?

We understand how difficult and challenging it is right now for not-for-profit organisations and therefore have come up with some cost saving tips for you to utilise.


Provide frequent meter readings

We understand that this not may be that easy right now, but the more meter readings you can send us, particularly as you are likely to be consuming less energy in the current climate, the more accurate your bills will be. We will work with suppliers, on your behalf, to ensure they get this information and react to it.


Possible payment holidays

We are in constant contact with energy suppliers about the possibility of offering our clients payment holidays, in the same way many mortgage providers are doing for UK households that need it most. If you think that you could benefit from this, please do get in touch and we will see if your provider will consider this option.


Tell us about sites that are shut

If you have any sites or locations that are currently shut and therefore not consuming any energy, please do let us know as soon as possible. We can speak to the supplier and arrange for you to move to a standing charge for the closure period. As we know, every little does help.


Please don’t cancel your direct debits

We understand that these are incredibly difficult times, but please do not just cancel your direct debits.  Talk to us about any concerns you have, and we will do all we can to help see you through this.


We are determined to help wherever we possibly can. So, if you are feeling pressure, stress or any degree of uncertainty about what to do with any aspect of your energy provisions then please do not hesitate to talk to us. We are here to provide advice and help you feel more in control.


You can contact us on 0808 178 8170 or by email at customercare@utility-aid.co.uk


Expand > 17 April 2020

Energy Prices are coming down, but we can help them come down even more.

Energy prices have always been big news.  Normally, it’s not great news as it usually involves prices heading north, but last week the news was awash with stories of suppliers cutting their costs. Ofgem, the government regulator for gas and electricity markets, announced that it was lowering the price cap on standard and default tariffs from £1,179 per year to £1,162 per year from the 1st April this year. Thankfully, we don’t think it’s an April Fool. 

On paper, £17 a year less is hardly something to get overly excited about, but it is a step in the right direction, if not a leap. One of the Big 6 suppliers reacted quickly, announcing it would reduce its standard tariff. It has cut bills for its 1.6 million customers by £16 a year, taking it to just £1 less than the new limit, £1,161 a year. They certainly play the game for all it’s worth. 

And this is the point I would like to make.  Perhaps it’s a statement of the obvious, but energy suppliers are not really on your side. They will play the system for all it’s worth and charge customers as much as they can. That’s where having someone like Utility Aid on your side makes all the difference. Our focus is not on making as much money from you as possible, it’s on making sure as little of your cash comes out of your pocket as is necessary. It’s how we have become the UK’s lowest cost energy broker and it’s most trusted. 

We never just accept the prices our customers pay when they come to us which is why we offer a free bill validation service. We work hard to drive costs down wherever we can, without compromising on service. And we are proud to do that for many not-for-profit organisations.  Our joy comes from saving money for our customers because we know that they can do so much good with the money they save. Whether that’s keeping more people off the streets, supporting more vulnerable children to have a better life, or ensuring mental health remains firmly on everyone’s agenda, our success makes others more successful. It’s something that makes our jobs so very rewarding. So, whilst prices coming down is undoubtedly good news, it shouldn’t stop there. We think that most organisations who haven’t experienced our service should get in touch.  We are confident we can save you money. And, if we can’t, you can be confident that we’ve checked that you’re not paying a penny more then you need to pay.


Expand > 28 February 2020

We do a lot of good work for charidee, mate.

Whenever I talk about what I do for a living with friends most of them seem to respond by saying I do a lot of good work for charidee. If you are of a certain age, which most of my friends are, you will no doubt remember Smashie and Nicey, the erstwhile radio DJ creations of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse.  

 

After I have allowed them the customary 30 seconds of giggling, I declare with enormous pride that that’s exactly what I do, albeit in a slightly different way.  I am incredibly proud of Utility Aid on every level.  It’s not just the charities we support each and every day by helping them get the very best deal for their energy consumption, it’s also that my team very much practice what they preach.  One cursory glance at our Facebook page will allow you to see a wealth of posts of my team raising money for the organisations who we have already saved money for.  To us, helping charities is not just a job, it’s our culture.

 

Whether that’s baking cakes for Sleaford Ambulance and Fire Station or supporting Ronald McDonald House in Glasgow with their fantastic selection box appeal over the festive period or helping a homeless charity on Christmas Day. We always put our hearts, souls and other limbs into doing good. And I’m proud to say that we don’t do this just because it makes good business sense, we do it because it is simply theright thing to do.  

 

There is (quite) lidderally nothing I like more than one of my colleagues bursting into my office to tell me about the latest piece of fundraising they have been able to do. It’s infectious and keeps us all ruthlessly focused on our purpose – to support not-for-profit organisations in any way we can.

 

Our approach has allowed us to become the most trusted energy broker in the UK.  At a time where trust is seemingly an ever-dwindling commodity, we wear this award as a badge of honour.  To know that our customers trust us is feeling that is quite simply priceless.

 

Of course, Smashie and Nicey didn’t like to talk about the work they do for charidee. Forgive us if we don’t follow that approach, we’re too proud not too.


Expand > 13 February 2020

The UKs zero-carbon electricity generation has outstripped fossil fuels for the first time ever

The UK’s zero-carbon electricity generation has outstripped fossil fuels for the first time ever

At Utility Aid, we take our corporate responsibilities seriously.  It’s never just been a tick-box exercise for us. Our focus has always been about driving down the energy costs for our customers, particularly as we work with organisations that operate in the not-for-profit sector. If we can help them take control of their energy consumption and reduce their costs, then they can spend more money where it’s needed most. Whether that’s helping reduce homelessness, provide more support for the elderly or raising the awareness of mental health, the more we can do, the more they can.

As well as our passion for helping our clients achieve this, we’re also passionate about sustainability and environmental issues. Fossil fuels will, quite simply not last forever and their harvesting will continue to have a detrimental effect on our planet. Finding new ways to source and create energy is the responsibility of the whole industry. Otherwise, at some point there won’t be an industry.

So, it is with a great deal of pleasure we saw the news that, for the first time in history, zero-carbon electricity surpassed fossil fuel generation in the UK last year. This is big, big news.  Of course, with this comes a customary word of caution. We are far from there yet and there’s a huge amount to do in the continual drive for total sustainability, but we should certainly celebrate this milestone.

Here’s the detail.  During the course of 2019, 48.5% of electricity consumed in Britain was generated using methods such as wind, solar and nuclear.  Fossil fuels accounted for 43%, with the remainder made up of biomass generation. During 2019, Britain’s record for coal-free electricity generation was broken numerous times. It first went at Easter, will almost 92 consecutive hours of coal-free generation recorded over the long bank holiday weekend. A few weeks later, in May, the National Grid confirmed that the UK had completed its first ever full week without coal. And, to top it off, just a few weeks later, the UK managed almost two weeks without coal generation. A big step in the right direction.

Our commitment to operate with a fully functioning morale compass will not change. It’s why we continually call for complete regulation of our own industry and why we’ve been recognised as the Most Trusted Energy Broker in the UK. So, we welcome this news with open arms. We just need to make sure our industry doesn’t stop driving for a completely net-zero target.  It will be a challenge, but a challenge we will play as big a part in as we possibly can.


Expand > 30 January 2020

The importance of village halls

Journey onto hidden tracks, look behind unfurled gardens, walk to the end of worn-down paths and you will find an unsuspecting centre for joy and fulfilment: The Village Hall. 

These quaint spaces celebrate and champion rural communities. From having your birthday here as a child, to hosting your own child’s first birthday. These institutions enrich, support and enable meaningful interactions between people; empower individuals, across generations, to flourish. Village halls are a haven for friendships, for development, for growth and opportunity. Ask any friend, person even, on the connotations of these spaces and they will reply with nostalgia: watching their friend’s band play, dance lessons, weddings, pilatesclasses, toddler groups, Spanish lessons, wooden floors and splinters in ballets shoes, dusty pianos, hand-written signs instructing correct chair stacking etiquette. 

Spaces like village halls, are not only memory makers but activity hubs, paramount fixtures in Rural Communities whose inhabitants are at a greater risk of loneliness and isolation. They are at the heart of rural community life, providing other vital services: post-offices, doctor’s surgeries and shops. In some cases, the absence of Village Hall run services, would leave members of the communities stranded; a situation which disproportionately affects the elderly. The maintenance of these crucial rural spaces would not be possible without the kindness, generosity and good will of volunteers who run the community buildings. 

Volunteers time and dedication keeps them going and to say thank you ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) have organised ‘Village Halls Week’, a week long campaign and national celebration of all things Village Halls from Monday 20th to Sunday 26th January. This began in 2018 and has grown from strength to strength, last year the event was featured across 16 BBC stations, showcasing the nation’s love for these treasured buildings. This year will be events up and down the country: open days, ‘halls history’, performances and events. 

ACRE are custodians of rural communities, championing their needs and using a strong evidence pool to speak up for the communities they serve. ACRE’s vision, ‘to be the voice of rural communities’ and drive to have an impact has influenced national policy on rural issues, from housing, health and transport to broadband, services and fuel poverty. 

Their Village and Community Halls Network provides an opportunity for members to air their views and consolidate them in the development of policies in support of village halls and similar rural community buildings.
Part of the network’s role is to support members in managing all aspects of their building, including their gas and electricity expenditure. 

Utility Aid supporting village halls
Since 2014 Utility aid has supported ACRE’s network members on energy saving projects. From offering training and guidance, sharing best practice and helping members access the best value energy packages. The Utility Aid team are passionate about supporting local communities and helping them to thrive. Utility Aid understand that funding and volunteers’ time is precious better invested into community projects and not utility bills. 
Utility Aid are determined to enrich as many communities as possible, which is why this year they will be the Lead Sponsor for Village Halls week. 

Giles Hankinson (Utility Aid’s CEO) commented: “It’s the perfect fit, we have the same dream, same ambition. We want to empower the communities we serve, it’s an absolute honour to support in any way we can.” 

On Monday 20th January, Hankinson attended the Village Halls opening reception at The House of Commons with the ambition to raise the profile and impact of rising energy costs on these rural communities. 


Expand > 23 January 2020

Welcome to the roaring 20s part II

Hello and a very warm welcome to a new decade. Of course, a New Year always provides the chance to return to work with renewed vigour and a desire to make this year even better than the last. But a new decade?  That feels like a chance to do just that with even greater focus.  At Utility Aid, we want to make the 20’s roar once more. And we’ll do all this with an unwavering focus on our customers, delivering the most competitive prices in the UK and unparalleled service.

It’s this focus on service that means I won’t give up on my call for regulation of our industry. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen numerous energy companies close, leaving many consumers unsure what to do next.  The failure of Utilitywise, a company rife with unhealthy sales practices and a culture of greed, perfectly embodies the need for rules. I will continue to lobby for this, asking for an immediate de facto regulatory manner, until actual regulation is in place.

I very much hope that my stance on this has gone some way to help us become the Most Trusted Consultancy of the Year. Yet, of course, so much more goes into receiving such awards.  To remind you, we are the only broker in the UK that deals with over 30 suppliers and also the only broker who has an Advisory Panel – a free resource that is designed to help our clients understand the key issues they face.

We are also incredibly active in the charitable communities we work with.  Perhaps one of my favourite examples saw two of my colleagues join many other fundraisers in the Norwich Sleepout last November, raising money for the incredible Benjamin Foundation who want to end youth homelessness.  We will continue to actively participate in supporting the organisations we work with. It’s part of the Utility Aid DNA.

Before I leave you, allow me one more moment of pride. Last year we were introduced to Emmaus Leeds, another charity working to end homelessness. They were introduced to us by an existing client and, at the time, were working with multiple suppliers and contracts. We quickly analysed their current, total consumption and arranged an alternative approach. We provided two years of budget security, with one, manageable contract. It removed significant administration for the team and reduced their costs, allowing Emmaus to focus on the important stuff – getting more people off the streets.


Expand > 17 January 2020

Fundraising Tips: How to Raise Money For Charities

According to the Charities Aid Foundation, the proportion of the UK public who gave money direct to charity in 2018 dropped to 57%, compared with 60% the previous year and 61% in 2016. This downward trend means that it’s particularly important to fundraise for charities. A big part of Utility Aid’s culture is to encourage and support our teams to regularly fundraise for the charities that we work with and ones within our communities.


Here are a few fundraising tips that we have picked up along the way:


Set up a fundraising page

Once you have decided on which charity you want to raise money for then you need to set up a fundraising page. Platforms such as JustGiving or GoFundMe make it very easy to start a page but it’s important to put some effort into it: choose something difficult or interesting to do such as running a marathon or doing a stand-up comedy show, make sure the text on the page is clear and captivating, and add some good pictures (n.b. you will need permission if they feature other people in them). Once everything is ready then use social media to promote your page or if it is appropriate, send your contacts direct emails or text messages. It can be worth contacting or tagging the charity you’re fundraising for as they may be able to share your page on their social media feeds or recommend a good hashtag. 


Start an event

Events are a great way to raise money and get people together for a good cause. It could be a dance in a local village hall, a cupcake sale, or a picnic in the park. Be creative and make sure to promote the event well in advance. Many local venues will offer a space for free if people spend a minimum amount on food and drinks, or they may even be prepared to give you a discounted rate if they know it’s for charity. You can either charge people an entrance fee to collect donations or let people in for free and set up various paid-for activities e.g. a raffle. It can be a good idea to promote the event on local notice boards and you could even try contacting the local press.


Run a competition 

Competitions can be a good way to raise money for charities but you need to follow a few simple rules. Prize competitions and lotteries operate under different rules. Lotteries rely on chance to win, whereas competitions usually require some form of a challenge. If you want to run a lottery then it’s essential to read the Fundraising Regulator’s rules around it. To run a prize competition is more straightforward but still requires you to follow a few basic rules: you need to be very clear about what the competition entails, what the prize is and to make sure that you announce the winner before or at the point that the competition ends. It is also important not to deduct anything from the prize charity fund beyond the cost of the prize. In many cases, local businesses are happy to donate a prize. 


For more in depth information about fundraising visit the Institute of Fundraising.




 


Expand > 9 July 2019

How can your organisation reduce its CO2 emissions?

Recently the UK became one of the first major economies to legislate to reach net zero emissions by 2050, which will end our contribution to global warming entirely. 

 

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “We know that investing in zero carbon solutions is good for growth - boosting jobs and the economy - and it is cheaper for business, organisations and government to tackle climate change now than to manage its impacts in the future.”

 

So how can charities and non-profits work towards reducing their carbon emissions? Here are a few tips: 

 

1. Manage your energy consumption 

A lot of energy is wasted through poor energy management, including leaving the lights on and running the heating when it is not needed. Utility Aid offers its customers energy management training and access to data that can help them to figure out how to better manage their energy consumption. With careful management and relatively simple interventions, such as adding smart meters and thermostats, you can not only reduce your energy costs but you can also reduce your CO2 emissions. 

 

2. LED lights

A lot of organisations burn through lots of electricity thanks to high powered halogen light bulbs. Fortunately, LED bulb technology has improved dramatically over the past few years and offers similar levels of lighting to conventional bulbs. By switching all of your lightbulbs to LED ones, you can significantly reduce your electricity consumption. Utility Aid can help develop a financial model to show payback for a self-funded scheme or a funded solution for LED and other energy reduction technology.

 

3. Change your energy contract or supplier

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon emissions is to change your contract or switch energy providers. We work with several energy suppliers that offer renewable energy tariffs. By switching to a renewable energy contract, you can rest assured that your energy use is not contributing to CO2 emissions. For more information contact our team on 08081788170.


Expand > 18 June 2019

Utilitywise Failure Underlines Importance of Regulation

• “Benefit to businesses would be huge” – Giles Hankinson, CEO of Utility Aid

• “Right now, how much a business pays for their utilities is a gamble”
 
Following the failure of North Tyneside utility broker Utilitywise, Utility Aid is strengthening its calls for the immediate regulation of the energy industry. Utilitywise struggled after the introduction of IFRS15 in 2017 — an accounting reporting standard to stop over-optimistic executives booking guesstimate income from contracts ahead of costs, a practice rife in the industry.
 
Utility Aid, the UK’s leading national utility broker, is lobbying suppliers – including a number of the Big Six – to operate in a de facto regulatory manner, until actual regulation is in place.
 
Giles Hankinson, CEO of Utility Aid, commented: “The management of Utilitywise cultivated unhealthy sales practices within the business. A culture of greed developed, whereby sales people were disproportionately incentivised for loading huge commissions onto customer contracts. Similarly, sales staff were rewarded for signing customers into the longest possible contracts, completely disregarding market sentiment. 

“The lack of regulation led to a breeding ground of poor practice, whereby having witnessed the cash rewards available, staff left to set up their own brokerages, migrating the poor practices with them. 

“Our evidence suggests that the greed culture created by the management of Utilitywise and others has permeated into the culture of many other brokerages across the country. It is seemingly like the Wild West in the energy sector and the only thing that will bring it to a halt will be regulation. 

“Right now, how much a business pays for their utilities is a gamble. Utility Aid primarily works in the not-for-profit sector, and I see every day what getting the best deal means for these organisations. Every single penny they save is reinvested into their front-line services, supporting people in our society that need it most.”
 
Hankinson warns that lack of regulation allows complete freedom of behaviour, with no legal recourse, for those suppliers or energy brokers not acting in the best interest of their clients.
 
He added: “The big energy companies and unscrupulous energy brokers are, in our opinion, opposing regulation because they are more concerned with maximising profits. Regulation would bring financial benefit and legal protection to tens of thousands of businesses and organisations.”
 
Utility Aid scooped ‘The Most Trusted Consultancy of the Year’ at the 2018 annual Energy Live Consultancy awards.


Expand > 24 April 2019

Utility Aid volunteer at Lodging House Mission in Glasgow.

The Lodging House Mission, a homeless charity based in Glasgow, received a much needed boost from Utility Aid during their annual food delivery.

On Tuesday 9th of October, five energy consultants from the Utility Aid team (Louise Duffy, Sarah Neilly, Michael Curry, Christine Devlin and Alix Scullion) rolled up their sleeves and spent the day volunteering with Lodging House Mission at their centre on East Campbell Street, Glasgow.  

The Lodging House Mission are a charity dedicated to providing care and support to homeless, vulnerable and socially excluded people. They prepare more than 45,000 free hot meals every year for people in need. During the months of October and November, Lodging House receive almost a year’s worth of food in just 6 weeks. During the day, Utility Aid helped to ferry food deliveries from vehicles and organise huge donations of lentils, biscuits, tins and dry food into categories. 

Louise Duffy, Utility Aid's Energy Specialist, commented:

“Lodging House Mission is one of my favourite charities. They carry out amazing work delivering real value to those that are vulnerable in our society. I’ve had a working relationship with them since 2012 and was delighted Utility Aid could help them on this occasion.”

Gus Smeaton, Director of Lodging House Mission, added:

“Utility Aid are a great help with our energy bills, but they do lots more.  We welcomed them back as a group of volunteers who helped sort our food donations. They have been before doing lots of different jobs throughout our large building and have promised to return. We are blessed.”

Christine, Glasgow's Charity Champion, shares her thoughts from the day:  

On October 9th our team of 5, headed to Lodging House Mission ready for a day of volunteering. 

As we walked over to Lodging House Mission on a very cold and rainy October morning- it really hit home the difference a hot meal and a roof over your head can make. Especially for someone sleeping on the streets. 


As we arrived, we were met with a flurry of activity as a large food donation had just arrived from a local church. We immediately got stuck in and started unloading as many of the bags of food donations as we could from the van. 

Once the unpacking was finished we went to the hall (where the food was stored) and realised the challenge ahead. There were so many donations and the entire floor was covered in: bags, cereal boxes, tins, packs of pasta - piled on top of each other.  A lot of donations come from local churches who celebrate harvest festival this time of year. Traditionally this would be when crops were harvested and food was in abundance – now they collect food for homeless organisations such as Lodging House Mission. 




We spoke to Gus (the manager of Lodging House Mission) about how they set about organising the immense quantities of food.  He explained to us, that the harvest festival donations account for 80% of their annual food income. In other words, almost all their food donations come during a very, brief window at this time of year. Unsurprisingly, Gus said that volunteers are needed more than ever to help move, organise and unpack donations. We were glad to be of service. 

We spent the day organising the huge amounts of donations.  Putting everything into food groups as well as date order, ensuring nothing goes out of date or goes to waste. We also had the amazing opportunity to have lunch with the service users, this involved sampling the delicious hot meals on offer, including a tasty apple cake! 

It is important for those, who have time to share and are located in Glasgow, to help the team at Lodging House Mission undertake this task.  We can of course donate food (to help feed the homeless) but more importantly we can donate our time: to make it easier for those who do such brilliant work. 

Sarah, my colleague at Utility Aid, commented: 

“It was great to strengthen my own link with Lodging House Mission. My mum has worked with their service users during winter for a couple of years and has found it highly rewarding, as did I too, it’s so important to do my bit to help.”


Expand > 30 October 2018

Food donation to Sleaford's Community Larder

Our Sleaford team make a food donation to Sleaford’s Community Larder.


On Friday the 19th of October Sasha and Melissa from our Sleaford team delivered food supplies to Sleaford’s community larder at the New Life Centre on Mareham Lane. 


The team stepped in to top up the community’s emergency supplies after the 6 weeks, summer holiday left their resources depleted. The whole office has been collecting a range of various tinned and packaged food since September. 


The Community Larder provides food for people in emergency situations. People who are facing hardship, with no other source of money or support. Situations such as homelessness, debt, unemployment, benefit review or family breakdown can all lead to difficulties for individuals or families. 

Rod Munro, a community team leader, commented: “Community saves us from the isolation we all fear. It increases the sense of belonging or purpose and elevates the believe that everyone is important.” 

Sasha, a charity champion from Utility Aid, said: “Dropping the supply off was eye-opening and really emotional. I didn’t realise that a lot of the people using the food bank are employed but on zero hour contracts; their money just doesn’t stretch to pay for bills and food.” 


Sasha shares her thoughts from the day: 

This year we have dedicated every month to a different Charity. So, in September, we thought we would do a collection for our local Food bank in Sleaford. 

One of the team, Melissa, had seen a plea on social media asking for food donations. The stock was low because of increased demand during the 6 weeks holiday and needed topping up urgently. 

When we arrived at the centre, we spoke to Rod (a community leader) who explained that the increase in demand during the holidays might be because schools are closed and not providing children a dinner during the day. Normally hot dinners are provided at schools for free; not having this meal for 6 weeks left some families really struggling.  

(The Sleaford office with their food collection)

Speaking with Rod, was really enlightening. 

He’s provided food parcels to those in need for 10 years and admitted that when he started he underestimated the volume of people who needed help. 

Even to this day, he can’t sit and enjoy his evening meal, knowing there are families and people in Sleaford who can’t do the same.

(Melissa and Sasha with Rod Munro)

Rod gave us a tour of the larder and showed us the organisational tools employed to keep all the food in order. Firstly, all the stock was organised by food category: lentils, pasta, tinned tomatoes and then again by use by dates. I don’t think my own cupboards are as systematic! This procedure ensures that very little is ever wasted or goes out of date. 

Perhaps the most shocking part of the larder was the number of essential baby items. I just hadn’t considered that these items are vital for young children but also really expensive for parents. It’s lucky that families facing financial hardship can turn to the centre for support.  

The impact of the community centre’s work really resonated with me when I saw the nappies and wipes stacked up one after the other: it shows their thoughtfulness and understanding of how best to help families . 




Towards the end of the tour, Rod showed us a food parcel that was made to supply one person for  three days. We were impressed with the volume and variety in the box and not even additional items had been included yet! 
Since opening in 2008, the larder has supported well over 6,500 people and the current economic climate has meant the larder has become increasingly busy, often supporting around 70 people each month.

This was quite an emotional experience. Learning about the number of people in Sleaford relying on food banks but also learning about people like Rod who are doing amazing and important work to counter the problem.  

We asked Rod if there was anything else we could do to help? And there is, so this December we'll be volunteering as servers during a Christmas dinner organised for pensioners. A lot of people struggle during the Christmas period, they often don’t have presents or the opportunity to have a Christmas dinner. To help tackle this volunteers at the centre make a Christmas hamper, which includes: a gift for children, a turkey, fresh vegetables, other Christmas treats. Volunteers then deliver this to the family, as a surprise, which can be very emotional for both the volunteer and the family. 
We have asked for details about a family that we, Utility Aid Sleaford, can support. More details to come in December! 



Expand > 26 October 2018

Utility Aid volunteer with Wood Street Mission in Manchester.

On Thursday 27th September, Erin, an energy consultant and charity champion, volunteered with Wood Street Mission during their busy ‘Family Basics’ session at their centre on Wood Street, Manchester.



Wood Street Mission is a charity working hard to help break the cycle of poverty which affects many families in the local community of Manchester. 

The charity provide practical help, to meet children’s day-to-day needs and improve their life chances. Through their 'Family Basics' program they provide struggling families with children’s clothes, bedding and baby equipment, and toys and books which are important for children’s well being and development. 


On the day, Erin helped families (visiting the Family Basics space) to pick up essentials, manage stock and organise donations.

Sophie Bell, the Volunteering and Fundraising Co ordinator, commented: 

"Volunteers are vital to supporting our work with children and families at Wood Street Mission. We were delighted to have Erin from Utility Aid volunteer with us for the day. As well as being a much needed extra pair of hands, she helped families when they visited for support and helped us sort through donations. Volunteering is an opportunity for supporters to see first hand where their donations go and who they help. Erin was a great addition to the team for the day and we hope to have her volunteer with us again!" 

Erin shares her reflections from the day:

Excited for a new experience and a chance to help families in the community, I arrived at Wood Street Mission unsure about what to expect.


At 9 am I arrived at the centre and met their volunteer and fundraising coordinator, Sophie. 

Sophie explained they run a Family Basics program with a free shop for families facing hardship. Here they can pick up essential day-to-day necessities; items which most of us take for granted. Things, such as: sanitary products, school stationary and children’s toys and clothes.



I spent the day supporting the shop and helping the families who dropped in to pick up essentials. When people came in, I’d explain the Wood Street Mission’s point system for items. Each family are allowed 15 points per child, a used item is 1 point and a new item is 2 points. 

It was a busy, hands-on day and I saw first-hand how Wood Street Mission do so much for  families with very little money. Something I found particularly thoughtful about their work is that most of the new born, baby essentials didn’t cost a single point on the point system. This process ensures that families have everything they need to cater for and raise a new baby in the world. Especially, as this can be such an expensive time for a family. 

It made me wonder what would happen without Wood Street Mission?

I knew poverty existed in the UK but until this experience I didn’t realise: the full extent of the issue, how much I took for granted and to be honest, it's given me a new perspective.

Luckily, Wood Street Mission give families an extra boost. They provide practical help and give people a stepping stone on which to raise their children – my experience brought to light the true meaning of ‘every little helps’.


Expand > 27 September 2018

How are Utility Aid supporting well-being in the workplace?

“Dogs make us smile and it’s great to see organisations, like yourselves, prioritising and investing in employees’ mental health. I’m grateful to see the difference the dogs made to people’s well- being”.


James Macdonald, Canine Concern Scotland Trust.
Utility Aid collaborated with the Canine Concern Scotland Trust to host a well-being evening with specially approved therapy dogs (Therapets) at their Clockwise Offices, Glasgow.

Research shows that spending time with animals, such as dogs, boost endorphins, helps relieve stress and even lowers blood pressure; Utility 
Aid wanted to offer this supportive, therapeutic evening to their office community. 

On the evening of the 29th August, James Macdonald (a trust representative) brought along a variety of dog breeds: a German Shepard, a basenji, and a yorkie/maltese cross for office workers to play with, pet and stroke.  

Christine Devlin, an energy consultant and charity champion, organised the evening for residents of Clockwise Office, as a way to counter work related stress which impacts 1 in 5 of UK workers every year. 



Louise Duffy, Utility Aid Manager, commented: “The charity do great work, helping a wide range of organisations and the dogs do an amazing job. A special thanks to Honey, Troy and Scooter without whom we would have had no event! Even if I was suffering with an allergic reaction, it was all worth it to get a chance to interact with the lovely animals and their owners”.



Christine Devlin, Glasgow’s charity champion, shares her reflections from the evening:

It is now a week after our great evening with the volunteers and “Therapets” from the Canine Concern Trust. This is a truly unique charity who provide a vital, novel (and very cute) solution to stress. I read recently, work related stress impacts one in five (21%) of UK workers – at that rate, every office in the UK should have their very own designated Therapet.

The dogs created a serene, uplifting environment and they thoroughly enjoyed everyone’s attention. Their positive influence on people’s emotions explains why the charity offers this escapism to people in: hospitals, hospices, care homes, schools and universities. The volunteers and the dogs do remarkable work, which varies from helping: those at the end of their lives in hospices to those beginning their lives at school. Everyone feels pressure at some point and the volunteers and Therapets put everyone at ease (well, people that like dogs). But, what’s brilliant about this charity is their fundamental, yet simple, drive to make more people smile.



The evening grew into a great success and it was nice to share it with other businesses in our building’s community. Hopefully, they’re feeling the benefits from the Therapet session and will sing the praises of the Canine Concern Trust.


It’s so important to support smaller, independent charities; they provide a great service for those in need, enable greater mental health and wellbeing, in a non-discriminatory and relaxed environment.

As well as interacting with our furry visitors, I particularly enjoyed getting to know the volunteers. It was good to understand their motivations for giving over their time and interesting to listening to their amazing stories of making so many individuals’ days. They are truly spirited and passionate about their work.

Finally, I feel lucky to be part of a working environment which recognises and supports staff well-being. And, I firmly believe that all places of work should run little workshops like this to protect the mental health of their staff.


Expand > 4 September 2018

Utility Aid host Afternoon Tea party for a care home in Norwich.

We celebrated National Afternoon Tea Week by volunteering and hosting a party for 40 residents at Corton House, a not for profit care home based in Norwich.



Martina and Mike (call handlers) and our CEO Giles Hankinson, celebrated with the residents over sandwiches, cakes, scones and tea. The afternoon's spread was prepared by a local caterer and the entertainment was from 'Peter Piper': a firm favourite amongst residents. 


National Afternoon Tea Week, 13th to 20th of August 2018, is a celebration of one of the nation’s favourite traditions.


Our call handlers share their reflections from the day: 

Martina:

 

"Volunteering at the tea party was so refreshing and gave me a good reason to spend time out of the office bubble. The experience has really widened my perspective and I have learnt how wise and knowledgeable the residents of Corton House are.

 

It was lovely to form relationships with the residents and I got to listen to some really interesting stories about their daily lives and personal histories. My eyes have been opened up to a completely different way of life that is so different to my own.


Amazing really, what giving up such a small portion of my time could mean to older people living at the care home. It's important to spend time with older people and learn who they are as individuals. One lady in particular really had an impression on me because her outlook on life was so positive. She believes that we should all be happy, every single day and appreciate every single moment of life. Words to live by!

The activities manager, Maria, told me that the Tea party will be talked about by the residents for days to come. For the residents, having the opportunity to have us visit and give them individual attention is invaluable, one resident even said: "I have loved having you all here today it has made my day".


Also I feel care home staff welcome volunteer support for all the benefits it brings to their residents. Another resident mentioned: "It is just brilliant… someone else coming in today has really brighten up the whole day".

Overall, what I learned from the afternoon in the care home is that volunteers like us make a distinctive contribution and add real value to the organisations and the people they visit.

Martina  


Mike:

“It’s always a great pleasure to support care homes, particularly those in the Not For Profit sector who rely on volunteers.

 

To begin, we decorated the expansive dining room from top to toe to make it special for the residents.  Next up was musical entertainment from the peerless Peter Piper. I enjoyed listening to him reminiscing with residents about the ‘good old days’ in between his scintillating songs. This  even encouraged some residents (namely Ken) to bring back memories of when he used to jive – demonstration included!



I met many residents: Wally (a spitfire pilot during WWII), Joan (the former owner of the incredibly popular Norfolk family business “Aldous Ice Cream”). And, Brenda who was particularly influential with her positive outlook on life, even during the war, her and her peers’ mantra was: “get on with life”.

And, Brenda who was particularly influential with her positive outlook on life, even during the war, her and her peers’ mantra was: “get on with life”.


In between sipping tea and munching on sandwiches, cupcakes and scones, she made some very valid points: such as “If you haven’t got anything pleasant to say then don’t speak at all” and that it is always rude to be late.

Seeing the smiles on so many faces, this was a very valuable experience for me, not least because I never knowingly met my grandparents. It’s the first time I have ever had a conversation with anybody about life before and during the war and it was fascinating to learn how residents quite rightly feel that the same values back then should still be paramount in modern day society.


Expand > 22 August 2018

Utility Aid and the CIRDIC Centre join forces to help those in need

Utility Aid were keen to donate and lend support at the CIRDIC Centres’ Summer BBQ and pamper day for people in need.

 

Based in the centre of Reading, CIRDIC is recognised as a safe and welcoming drop in centre to many homeless people who are disadvantaged and living in the local community.

 

The centre relies on the support of volunteers and fundraising to run a range of services and give help to anyone who walks through the door. They understand the high levels of complexity and interrelated needs which affect homeless people and offer support including: health, welfare, training, addiction services and employability workshops. Almost daily, a nutritious meal is provided (for free) and above all else volunteers want service users to feel special, valued and human. 

Their values deeply resonate with the people of Reading and with Utility Aid.


The team at the Cirdic Centre reflected on the practices which most of us take as ‘routine’, ‘the normal’. And decided, ‘pampering’ while a habit to some was a luxury to others.

Eager to support the pamper days were local: hairdressers, beauticians, massage therapists, chefs and ethical clothing provider, MoreLord London, who handed out t-shirts, hats and bags to all.



So how did Utility Aid help?

 

More than sponsoring the event to cover the cost of food, suncream and sunglasses, we wanted to donate our time to support the volunteers and connect with people accessing services. 

All members of Utility Aid staff have paid community days which they can take at any point of the year, to support charities of their choice.

 

 One member of the Utility Aid team, Samantha James is ardent about resolving the housing crisis and outside of Utility Aid volunteers at a Housing and Mental Health network.







Expand > 27 July 2018

Giles Hankinson: Change the circumstances for those in need from bad to good.

Utility Aid possessed no magic wand, no spell book and certainly no special powers. Instead of being overwhelmed by the task at hand - making the selling and marketing of utilities to small businesses and charities ethical and kind - they saw the chance in the challenge. Armed only with an unyielding commitment and desire to overthrow the big six "Ugly Sisters" - Utility Aid would not rest: until the playing field was levelled. Excuse the metaphor but with Christmas adorning December it seemed fitting to maintain the festive theme. As I watched a panto recently (children's choice, not mine) I realised, there is an intimate link between the protagonists of fairy tales and the members of third sector and charity organisations. Both are striving to make the world a better place, both are fighting against the odds and both would benefit from a fairy godmother. We recognise that, just like Cinderella, people in these sectors work tirelessly to do good and bring joy to those in need; without their own largess or self-interest. However, when it comes to the Utility market they may as well be in the hands of a fairy godmother hoping they have the good fortune to find a decent deal on their utility bill. But it shouldn't be a story, it should be a reality that doesn't need a magic wand. In fact, all I want for Christmas is regulation in our sector so that everyone has the chance to get the best opportunity they can, to break free from being disadvantaged and to instead: flourish. The seasons change but the problems facing the Cinderella sectors - do not. The Christmas period inspires a time to do good for your family and friends, colleagues and clients, even complete strangers. But, I guess, it's a model Utility Aid tries to instil all year round doing good by everyone, not just at Christmas. Alongside festivities, this is a time for reflection and gratitude. Certainly, for me, I feel very grateful with the honest work that Utility Aid has carried out this year; ethical principles are the fibre of our organisation and I think, that's why this year we've had such a far-reaching effect. The performance of the majority of providers is strong and moves us one step closer to achieving our dream. This year has been a politically tumultuous one, upheaval and change, uncertainty and fragility, it's not stopped. However, one thing that has changed is the money we've sensibly saved our clients so they have a chance to do more good. This wouldn't be possible without a team of suppliers that work relentlessly with us. We monitor the performance of our suppliers very meticulously and this attention to detail allows us to recognise and celebrate the good while also finding opportunities for improvement. Our commitment to development and our clients is not just for the festive season, it's who Utility Aid fundamentally are. It's not just about winning customers but actually caring for them once they commit to us; we commit to them. My mission in 2018 is to fight for regulation for the utility industry in the third sector. Hopefully next year I can finally say to our customers, those problems of 2017? "It's Behind You".


Expand > 21 December 2017

CHARITIES MUST SWITCH LIKE SAVVY CONSUMERS TO MAKE THE BEST SAVINGS ON ENERGY BILLS

Charities need to think like consumers when it comes to their energy providers, or face missing out on the best deals, according to leading broker Utility Aid. The energy regulator Ofgem, this week reported that the "Big Six" electrical and gas suppliers made over £1bn profit, increasing their profit margins by 4.5% along the way, by charging higher prices to those consumers that didn't switch. Giles Hankinson, Chief Executive of Utility Aid, an energy broker that works with the not-for-profit sector said charities could dramatically reduce their bills, if they shopped across the whole market. "The smartest customers shop around for the best deals. Charities should be no different. However, a quarter of organisations believe it's too complex or time-consuming to find a new tariff and the big firms rely on this concern to charge higher rates. "By shopping across the whole market, charities can save hundreds if not thousands of pounds, all of which can be ploughed back into frontline services." Ofgem's State of the Energy Market 2017, showed in June this year there were 60 suppliers offering electricity and or gas, 16 more than a year ago but more than half of consumers (58%) had never switched supplier or switched only once. The report also revealed two- thirds of consumers were on a default variable tariff which can be around £300 more expensive than the cheapest fixed term deals. It claims the energy retail market works well for larger businesses but smaller ones pay much more on average. It states: "Larger business consumers can often negotiate good deals with suppliers, but smaller ones tend to pay more for their energy, and switch infrequently. Average business electricity prices are around 50% higher for very small firms than for large or very large consumers, while non-domestic gas prices can be twice as high." Utility Aid saved a branch of one leading charity nearly 10% on their gas and 40% on electricity when energy contracts came up for renewal. The broker firm has developed a simple, three step process to help organisations understand what their options are and if they can save money. Firstly, they gather data asking for a letter of authority (as required by Data Protection laws) which enables them to establish the clients consumption across the year. Then they use this information to search the whole market, finding the right supplier for a specific business. Secondly, they review the cost of the current energy and check that a business is on the right tariff, and meter profile. Lastly, they provide a proposal for a business's energy needs and then complete all the paperwork for you. Giles added: "One of the best ways to find out if you are paying more than you should is to shop around, but if you are a small organisation making dozens of calls might not be possible. "Getting energy through a broker can help with this and it also gives small organisations the chance to join forces and bid for a contract en masse."


Expand > 17 November 2017

Giles Hankinson: Time to change

This is the first of several discussions, looking at the behaviour of energy companies within the Business to Business sector. It is 2018 and technology has transformed many of our day-to-day practices. It has changed the way in which we lead our lives, disrupting our habits and routines, often (but not always) for the better. The purpose of these new technologies has been to make the lives of consumers easier and less stressful. Take for example, ordering your everyday groceries. You no longer need to go to the supermarket instead you can order them online and have them delivered directly to your door. But technology hasn't stopped there. If you now own an Amazon "Alexa" or the like, you don't even need to go online. All you do is instruct Alexa to buy the shopping for you and job done! Who would've thought, you could do an entire food shop, simply by talking to a robot? Putting aside the issue of technological benefits, the principle remains, these innovations were made with the customer in mind. To create simplicity, efficiency and satisfaction in our hectic lives. Generally, customer satisfaction is what drives business: not the other way round. Whilst many companies seem to adopt the "customer first" strategy, many do not execute it in practice. Certainly, in energy brokering we see the scale of this first-hand. Far too frequently, and often across an entire organisation, there is little or no focus placed on customer satisfaction - unless of course it is for sales. In which case the management have thrown more than enough resources to "sign you up" there and then, with little thought as to keeping you happy beyond the point of sale. As such, I think I speak for most, when I describe how I feel my stress levels increase at the thought of contacting my organisation's utility provider for a non-sales issue. Be it a provider for Water, Gas or Electricity. You will typically experience long wait times, a never-ending list of options to choose from, a terrible choice of "hold" music and hostile phone operators who give you little or no support - often whilst charging you for the privilege of being on the phone. Utility Aid took a closer look at this and found that only one of the "Big Six" answered business calls in under 30 seconds, whilst others left customers hanging on the line for well over three minutes. This poor approach to customer service doesn't stop there. When you do eventually get to speak to someone, they often aren't able to address the issue satisfactorily, which means you need to make even more calls in the future. Investment in post-sale customer contact is almost non-existent. True, some suppliers have made token gestures introducing so-called "new technologies" or as they call them "client portals" whereby a customer logs-on to a basic account screen, in the hope of finding the information they are looking for. In practice, these are little more than basic web pages with limited client data - more importantly, they generally fail to address the need of the client - whom more often than not, requires answers from a human being. This is one of the major factors in organisations calling upon the services of Utility Aid. Utility Aid employs knowledgeable people who are able to immediately address the query of the customer, or go and find out the answer to the query. I will discuss more about Utility Aid resolving customers issues in the next blog. However, for now, suppliers raising prices but not raising customer service is absurd! The supplier mentality of "sign them up now, but then provide as little support as we can get away with, afterwards", is not only backward and outdated, it is infuriating and patronising to consumers, who are both smart and deserving, and should be treated as such. The annals of corporate failure are littered with umpteen businesses that have ignored the demands of the consumer. It's time for energy providers to move out of the dark ages. We have the communication capabilities unimaginable even five years ago. So, I ask, why are these opportunities not being taken and exploited? Make life easier for your customers - that should be the driving force of an organisation - a customer centered approach at all times.


Expand > 10 November 2017

Utility Aid donates £1,000 to United Response to do more good for people with disabilities

Disability charity, United Response, has received a generous donation of £1,000 from its energy broker, Utility Aid. United Response is a national charity supporting people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and mental health needs. Giles Hankinson, CEO of Utility Aid, donated the cheque on 29th September at the charity’s head office in Wimbledon – a fantastic example of business and charities working together to enhance people’s lives. The donation was inspired by United Response CEO, Tim Cooper, completing the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100, cycling 100 miles through the streets of the capital in aid of the charity. The cheque from Utility Aid has brought Tim’s grand total of fundraising over £3,000. Tim commented: “Fundraising enables us to make a difference to people’s lives that couldn’t be delivered with statutory funding. Projects such as our award-winning accessible newspaper, Easy News, for example, rely on fundraised money and its things like this which enable the people we support to really live their lives to the fullest and be active members of their community. “We are extremely grateful to Utility Aid for their kind donation, which we know will make a huge difference to the lives of the people we support.” Utility Aid is the largest ethical energy broker in the UK and has gained an excellent reputation in the not-for-profit sector by helping charities purchase energy in the most cost-effective way. Giles said: “Utility Aid has longstanding relationships with many charities across the country, we have witnessed time and again the remarkable work of the teams helping those who need it most. We are delighted to make this donation as United Response carries out incredible work, supporting people with disabilities day-to-day."


Expand > 5 October 2017

Marcel Boonaert: Creating opportunities for charities

When my son watches superhero films: Superman, Batman, Harry Potter, whatever takes your fancy, there is an idealised view of what 'heroics' should look like or should be - a fancy outfit, an extra ordinary power and probably an expensive gadget. But after 18 years experience in wholesale markets and portfolio management, I have learnt: real heroes don't wear capes. They don't even have 'Batmobiles'. Instead, what the heroes in Utility Aid have are the values, the vision and a unique respect for others, which is not the obvious content of superhero fiction but - it should be. When you combine the power of humility, integrity and the drive to make our society better - you get Utility Aid. You get an organisation whose sole existence is founded on the belief to improve the life chances of people and improve the potential for charities to extend their impact. We are the people, who help the people to help the people. Our power is our ability to access wholesale markets, okay as a film it might not work out but our philosophy and market insight - it has the ability to evolve charitable organisations. If a charity can access wholesale markets - they access cheaper costs. The more money they save on their utilities allows more money to be spent on the priority - the people or the causes they help. There is an intimate tie between my job and charitable enterprises; the work we do at Utility Aid directly cascades into society. Into creating a better society which values people not profit. It is an honour to support charities working on human rights violations across the world. The money and time we save them allows them to get on with their real job: protecting people. As a result, people have been freed, lives have been saved and justice has been done. It's the small acts that cumulatively have an impact on the society that we should all, in all sectors, be striving to create. I hope that others will lead by our example and to do what's right for all of us: collaboration. We save our clients time and money, provide our clients with time and money thus our clients have the precious time and money to invest in their causes. Utility Aid creates opportunities for charities, empowers charities to evolve and help as many people as possible. We may not wear superhero outfits or drive batmobiles, but we do have the power to spread as much goodness as possible, through the work we do - I think that's real heroism.


Expand > 19 September 2017

BUSINESSES WARNED THEY MAY BE OVERPAYING THOUSANDS OF POUNDS ON UTILITIES

Utility Aid, the UK's lowest cost energy broker, is advising businesses to urgently review their energy packages to see if they can save money. Utility Aid believes there are many organisations who are currently overpaying thousands of pounds for their energy, or are simply on the wrong utilities plan. Giles Hankinson, CEO of Utility Aid, comments: "If you turn on the television, open a newspaper, or read online, it's a raft of doom and gloom everywhere. This is perhaps no more apparent than in the general economic conditions and the huge uncertainty the UK faces over what Brexit looks like and what it will mean for our pockets. But there are steps many can take right now to reduce the amount of money they pay for things, and this is the same for their energy costs". "Just recently we managed to save one of our customers £10,000 a year, reducing their total bill by over 40%. We work with a lot of not-for-profit organisations who typically reinvest this money straight into their front-line services. For some, it's the difference between carrying on or closing down". Utility Aid has developed a simple, three step process to help organisations understand what their options are and if they can save money. Firstly, they gather data, asking for a letter of authority (as required by Data Protection laws) that enables them to search the whole market to find the right supplier for a specific business. Secondly, they review the cost of the current energy and check that a business is on the right meter profile. Lastly, they provide a proposal for a business's energy needs and then complete all the paperwork for you. Hankinson continues: "People often think that it's more hassle than it’s worth to change their energy supplier, which is understandable. It's fair to say that the big six energy suppliers rely on this apathy to increase their profits and given recent price hikes now, more than ever, companies should take the time to ensure they are getting the best deal possible. Utility Aid's process takes the work away from the customer and they have a range of different strategies so as to ensure customers are on the most appropriate energy package. A Fixed Price Strategy sees a business's total requirement purchased in one block, helping with budgeting for the duration of the contract. A Market Trigger Strategy, splits your purchasing into blocks, often meaning clients can take advantage of low prices at a specific time. A Portfolio Managed Strategy allows organisations that don’t have a large consumption to join others and buy their energy together, taking advantage of wholesale pricing. Finally, a Portfolio Managed Strategy, an approach specifically tailored for that business. Hankinson concludes: "Our simple process and access to a number of different ways to purchase energy, ensures each and every business obtains what's right for them. It's reaping rewards for a large number of our customers and we believe there are thousands more who could benefit". To find out more and to start the process simply visit http://www.utility-aid.co.uk


Expand > 8 September 2017

James Summerbell: Buying energy, the right way

So far in our blogs, several of my colleagues have revealed some interesting insights into their personal lives. So, I thought I'd better continue that theme. I'm a big fan of Monty Python and, in particular, The Life of Brian. If there's a more quotable film out there I'm not aware of it. My favourite scene, coincidentally of course, is where Brian is desperately avoiding trying to haggle for a Gourd (a jar to you and me). Michael Palin's market seller just will not accept that Brian is prepared to pay the first price without haggling. What ensues is a painful, yet side splitting narrative on the art of haggling. In many ways, it reminds me of the energy sector. Many organisations we come across have, far too often, accepted the first price they have been offered without thinking that they can secure a better deal with negotiation and a knowledge of how the industry works. At Utility Aid, transparency is a mantra we live by. Ensuring our customers get the very best deal for them is how we operate, it's our business model. We ensure all our clients understand all parts of the market. It’s why we have a number of different pricing structures that mean no matter what size a business is, and how much energy it consumes, they can be confident they are on the best payment plan for them. A Fixed Price Strategy sees a business's total requirement for energy purchased in one single transaction, guaranteeing the price for the duration of the contract. Its largest benefit is for a business's cash flow, providing the certain knowledge of what you will pay without the concern of fluctuations. The Market Trigger Strategy splits your energy consumption into blocks, typically for six or 12 months. When you sign the contract, you chose the percentage you pay (usually 50% or 75%) and the purchasing of the remaining energy is determined by the movement of energy prices. Businesses can then hopefully take advantage of lower prices or, worst case scenario, a limit is set to purchase the remainder before prices go above a certain level. A Portfolio Managed Strategy allows organisations that don't have a large energy consumption the ability to access wholesale markets. We place a number of clients collectively into the portfolio to ensure we have the volume required to access wholesale markets. This approach spreads the pricing risk by making multiple purchases during the term of the contract, providing a reflective market price each and every month. Finally, we offer a truly bespoke service. We help your organisation understand the products in the market place and then work with you to identify the most relevant to your needs. This considers your appetite for risk on price movement as well as the need for some degree of budget certainty. This transparent approach to energy sourcing and consumption is something we are very proud of and that we are evangelical about. Of course, we're not claiming to be the messiahs of our industry, that would be arrogant. But we are certainly not naughty boys.


Expand > 18 July 2017

Andy Homer, Chairman of Utility Aid, increases the support for the regulation of energy brokers

If you read Giles Hankinson's recent UA blog, you can see how much Utility Aid and its staff believe in a small but important way we can help to make a difference for our customers, the charities and the organisations we work for. So, I would like to expand on a theme Giles has touched on - something called regulation. Most of us can see why some regulation is necessary - food safety for example. But many fight against the imposition of regulation ('too much red-tape') whilst some take a somewhat cynical position and oppose regulation because, frankly, it cuts into their margin, their profit. Such views are sometimes dressed up by representing them as a 'free market' philosophy. Beware of market makers preaching philosophy and that includes me; but - having declared my hand, here's my point. I am in favour of regulating the selling and marketing of utilities to small businesses and charities. Why? Because in 2005 I ran an insurance business and the selling and marketing of insurance had regulation thrust upon it by the Financial Services Act, with the first regulator the FSA, now known as the FCA ( Financial Conduct Authority). It was not easy - selling practices had to be overhauled, documented and audited. The focus shifted from price, price, price, to quality of service and quality of product. Price pressure has not changed, it never will in a competitive market, which is how it should be. I am afraid that not all business sectors have been putting the customer first, for example local authorities are being granted extra powers in 2017 to help regulate the practices around the letting of property to tenants - not before time. And how much do we trust some of the internet booking agents for live events? Some - because they have a trusted brand. But surely regulation in that sector cannot be far away. So, should it be in the utility advice space? Those voices that oppose regulation have self-interest set before customer interest. That has to stop.


Expand > 19 June 2017

UA ENERGY CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE REGULATION OF INDUSTRY

The UK's leading not-for-profit energy broker says the benefit to businesses would be huge and that regulation inspires innovation not stagnation. Utility Aid, is calling for the immediate regulation of the energy industry. The company, which primarily works in the not-for-profit sector of the economy, believes that its industry can be a lottery for many organisations whose very existence depends on being as efficient as possible. Utility Aid has been lobbying suppliers - including a number of the Big Six - to operate in a de facto regulatory manner, until actual regulation is in place. Giles Hankinson, CEO of Utility Aid, is clear on the direction his industry needs to take. He commented: "The topic of regulation is something I'm incredibly passionate about, but I'm equally frustrated. Right now, how much a business, or organisation pays for their utilities is a gamble. A quarter of a century of deregulation has, frankly, left us in a pretty poor state. Utility Aid primarily works in the not-for-profit sector, and I see every day what getting the very best deal means for these organisations. Every single penny they save is reinvested into their front-line services, where they are often supporting people in our society that need it most." Utility Aid is certain that proper and meaningful regulation will level the playing field for everyone, allowing businesses and organisations to feel more comfortable with the products and services they are being offered. Utility Aid warns: lack of regulation allows complete freedom and behaviour with no legal recourse, for those suppliers or energy brokers, not acting in the best interest of their clients. The company believes that in a well-regulated market, innovation is even more important, promoting genuine competition and ultimately benefiting customers. Hankinson added: "Perhaps unsurprisingly the big energy companies and those unscrupulous energy brokers are, in our opinion, opposing regulation, as they are more concerned with maximising profits. Yet regulation would unquestionably bring financial benefit and legal protection, to tens of thousands of businesses and organisations, and that's something we believe is worth fighting for." Post General Election and the appointment of the new Energy Minister, Utility Aid plan to lobby Government on the issue of regulation in the energy industry.


Expand > 6 June 2017

Passionately Frustrated

Written by Giles Hankinson (CEO, UA Energy) When we've exhausted house prices, schools, the weather, politics and other such topics of global importance, I often find myself talking to my friends about not for profit organisations. Honestly, I do. And I still remain regularly surprised. Not, as you may think, about how this becomes a topic of conversation at all, but rather about their assumptions and attitudes to the principle. The cry is often heard that the people running the organisations aren't in the business of running a proper business. After all, they have no need to watch the profits. After my now customary outburst of incredulity dies down, I remind them that profit and efficiency are the very things that these organisations must watch like a hawk watches its next meal. Becoming more efficient to these types of businesses means they can reinvest any savings they make into providing better outcomes for the people they support. Money saved sensibly in one place is a chance to do some good in another. I guess my incredulity extends to frustration because I'm incredibly passionate about what my business does. Passionate that we help organisations get the very best energy prices. Passionate that this allows them to "pass it on", often to people who need it most. And passionate that I have a job that lets me keep my conscience in a good place. This passion extends to our regular support of the organisations we help. We're delighted, for example, to be sponsoring the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations' Annual Conference. It's us giving back, just like they do. One final thought I'd like to share is on regulation. You probably won't be surprised to hear it's something I'm both passionate and frustrated about. There's a running theme here. The need for our own industry has never been more apparent. The big six firms don’t seem too keen, worried no doubt about their erosion of profits. Yet regulation would bring a far fairer playing field for all and, ultimately, financial benefit to thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of people who need it. That's certainly something worth fighting for. This blog is the first in a number of ones coming soon. We want to show the importance of what we do and how it makes a real difference to so many worthwhile and socially important organisations. We think it's a great story and worth sharing. We hope you do too.


Expand > 15 May 2017
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