19 May 2023

Supporting older people through the cost of living crisis

Orbit has taken a proactive approach to identifying and contacting older customers who may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the cost of living crisis, to ensure that they get the help they need to support their wellbeing and maintain their tenancies.

In January of this year, Orbit wrote to just under 800 older customers, to inform them about its new energy advice service (delivered by National Energy Action (NEA) as part of Orbit’s better days programme), which offers help with energy grants, fuel debt applications, liaising with energy suppliers, and changing tariffs or payment types.

The team also went out to visit as many of these customers as possible face-to-face. Over the course of February and March, 15 colleagues completed nearly 500 wellbeing and energy checks. They handed out a total of 159 winter warmth support packs, which equates to £13,833 of energy saving measures (£87 per customer). Of those customers, 88 also received bespoke behavioural advice to help them use energy more efficiently, leading to a further potential average annual saving of £369 per customer.

This initiative has also created further benefits for both customers and Orbit beyond the financial. Many customers stated how “it was nice to see a face” and “how it had been a long time since they had seen anyone.” Colleagues were able to identify other issues that customers were facing, such as repair problems and were able to escalate these straight away.

We have helped many customers not only to keep warm this winter, but also support those who were socially isolated or lonely.

Residents are generally referred to the better days programme or to the tenancy sustainment team after contacting Orbit’s customer support hub and being assessed by a triage service to determine their level of need.

The triage officers in Orbit’s tenancy sustainment team provide a bespoke service, listening and understanding each customer’s story to provide the right support for their needs. This can range from the financial which includes benefits checks to determine any help that may be available, signposting to tenancy sustainment job coaches to make sure they are maximising the benefits they are entitled to and increase the household income, and signposting to the Welfare Benefits Advice Service, a fantastic service funded via Orbit better days programme.

If fuel prices and fuel poverty are an issue we can introduce people to National Energy Action, a service funded by Orbit to help customers with the rising cost of energy or provide energy vouchers to put towards bills.

The conversations with the triage officers throw up other aspects of daily life that have been affected by the rising cost of living crisis, which enable us to provide further support. We use these opportunities to sign post to local council’s cost of living support line and leading charities, such as Age UK, for instant access to a wide range of local support available including food banks, health and wellbeing support.

Orbit’s ‘navigating the cost of living’ training module provides advice on how to budget and manage the rise in inflation. The modules are delivered in group sessions as they are very popular, but we advise people they aren’t expected to have the camera on or engage they don’t want to.

The triage officers also provide access to mental health support and regularly make referrals to Breathing Space, a mental health and wellbeing service provided and funded by Orbit through our better days programme. Our partner organisation, Mind, offer confidential support for customers and a range of helpful tools to help improve the mental health of the customer.

The cost of living crisis has made its impact felt on most aspects of day to day life, hitting those on the lowest incomes hardest. At Orbit we are proud of the work we have done to try to help our customers, navigate the crisis and ensure they are receiving all the support available to them.

Written by Charley Gibbons

Charley is the director of customer experience at Orbit.