The result of a very successful cooperation: Thanks to the VERBUND-sponsored Caritas Electricity Assistance Fund it has been possible, in the past three years, to permanently help 1,500 financially weak households in Austria – amounting to 4,000 inhabitants - out of the energy trap! President of Caritas Austria, Franz Küberl, VERBUND CEO, Wolfgang Anzengruber, and deputy head of the European Commission in Austria, Dirk Fassbender, are advocating socially and ecologically compatible measures against energy poverty and in favour of energy efficiency.
"In especially difficult cases, rapid and direct financial support was provided, old household appliances were replaced, all received a consultation and a majority of the households save on expenditure for energy each month – thus enabling them to finance other important living expenses," explained Franz Küberl, president of Caritas Austria. He added, "The need continues to be enormous; there are long waiting lists for the social welfare services!"
The results in figures
- 1,500 households – amounting to 4,000 people - have been reached.
- 1,355 households have received an average 100 € in financial aid for electricity bills.
- 664 electric household appliances have been replaced or, replacement proposed, as the case may be.
- 965 energy consultations have been carried out in households.
- Following the energy consultation, 72% of the households have annually been able to save an average of 300 euro and 1,511 kilowatt hours on a lasting basis. (Evaluated with a usage-bound price of 0.20 euro.)
- VERBUND annually feeds the Fund to the tune of 1 € for each of its some 250,000 private and business customers.
3-pillar model as a paradigm for corporate social responsibility
VERUND CEO, Wolfgang Anzengruber: "Three facets set this cooperation apart from many others: Firstly, from the very outset, it was jointly developed by both partners: Caritas, with its competence in social issues, and VERBUND, with its expertise in energy matters. Secondly, this threefold package of aid is available to all financially weak households throughout Austria - and not only to VERBUND customers. And, thirdly, the impact is examined or optimised, as the case may be, through a second energy consultation that takes place one year after the initial consultation and aid measures. Unfortunately, even if the effectiveness of the VERBUND-sponsored Caritas Electricity Assistance Fund has meanwhile been proven, there is still no common solution across Austria," said Anzengruber. "So far, similar aid models exist in just two federal provinces (Carinthia and Vienna), but these may only be used by customers of the respective energy supplier."
A successful example of energy and welfare policy
From the political viewpoint, Dirk Fassbender, deputy head of the European Commission in Austria, also sees the VERBUND-sponsored Caritas Energy Assistance Fund as a successful model for the implementation of the energy efficiency guidelines that were passed by member states in November 2012. "Energy efficiency can also be viewed as welfare policy being put into practice. From the European Commission’s point of view, it is intended that welfare policy and energy policy complement one another. In their self-imposed saving obligations, the member states are able to incorporate demands with social objectives. To this end, the target can also be that part of the energy efficiency measures are primarily to be implemented in households affected by energy poverty or in welfare housing. It is ultimately down to the political volition of the member states as to whether the targets specified by the EU are attained."
Energy saving must be achievable!
A major problem lies in the fact that socially disadvantaged individuals frequently live in the worst apartments, in which mostly outmoded heating appliances with an extremely disadvantageous energy balance are being used. According to EU-SILC, a total of 313,000 people in Austria have a problem to keep their homes adequately warm. And, naturally, these households also don’t have the means to draw upon public funding for the thermal rehabilitation, for solar or photovoltaic installations, since they lack the necessary personal resources. In addition, most live in rented accommodation. Even the replacement of an old or leaky refrigerator - a first-rate electricity gobbler - is frequently an unsolvable problem, explained Küberl: "Low-income households find themselves in an insurmountable predicament – they are the ones to suffer most severely from the continuously rising energy costs and have the least money with which to be able to help themselves through investment in energy efficiency."
Access to energy is comparable to human body temperature
Küberl continued: "If the home represents a person’s second skin, then access to energy is their body heat – we need both in our lives. Cold doesn’t bother us – quite the opposite. Bitterly cold temperatures, snow crunching beneath our shoes, the white "smoke" of our breath, and red noses and ears... Wintery temperatures are a pleasure because we know that, sooner or later, we can retreat into the warmth, drink a cup of tea and escape from the cold whilst looking through the window of a warm living room. Imagine that you don’t have any such warm living room, but rather that it is also cold at home."
Being cut off from energy sources has a considerable impact on peoples’ existential needs, whether it’s because it’s no longer possible to keep the home adequately warm, hygienic requirements can no longer be fulfilled due to a lack of warm water or whether it’s the fact there is a considerable lack of food. If energy poverty continues for a longer period, health consequences are unavoidable - especially for children - and opportunities for social participation are greatly reduced. "I’ll tell you, very clearly, where we come up against mighty constraints: in the thermal rehabilitation of homes. Ill-fitting windows, old material und poorly insulated apartment buildings. Despite the fact that, since 1 January 2012, we have been in the position to replace old heating appliances, our hands are sometimes tied," says Küberl, with reference to the challenge facing politicians.
- The establishment of a nationwide and independent energy assistance fund, with the goal of combining social aspects (lowering household expenditure) and social issues (increased living comfort) with ecological requirements (energy efficiency, energy savings).
- Reintroduction of the allocation of housing aid for, among other things, the thermal rehabilitation for financially disadvantaged households.
- Social work-related and energy consultation expertise in the customer support provided by the power supply industry, enabling those households affected by energy poverty to be able to benefit from energy efficiency services as well.
- The introduction of a shut-off prevention in the event of payment problems in all federal provinces; a shut-off ban should at least exist in the supply of heating during the winter period.