Kimberley Barrow, Money and Digital Manager

We’re helping now to enable 'then'

When my fridge freezer broke, it was quite an inconvenience. I lost the food that went off and we had to order a couple of takeaways to get us through the week.  Luckily when, I got onto the internet, I managed to find a decent second-hand one quite close to me. I got into my van and went to fetch it, solving my problem within a week.

But for some of our customers this is simply not an option. They don’t have the spare money or savings to buy new and they don’t have easy access to transport to collect second-hand goods. They might not even have the digital skills to search online for preloved items.

But is it such a big deal not to have a fridge freezer?

Well, actually, the answer is yes. A report from ‘Turn to Us’ in January 2020 estimated that not having a fridge freezer can cost the average household £1,365 a year. Not having an oven can cost as much as £2,100 a year.

What might seem like replaceable basics, or annoying neccessities to many of us, can feel like insurmountable catastrophe for others, with people turning to loans or high interest repayment schemes to simply keep their homes running.

Problems like this one are the reason that, over the last year, we’ve been developing Sovereign’s ‘Money’ offer, alongside a programme of digital support. In order to maximise our impact we’ve found partners who are experts in the field, and have worked with them to create a number of different offers.

We’ve already funded 57 white goods items, and the scheme has only been running for a few months. It shows us how badly it’s needed and how much it means to people. One of our customers on the Isle of Wight told me: ‘You’ve no idea how excited we are to get our new fridge freezer – now to go get the food to fill it!’

This white goods grant is just part of our partnership with Charis, where eight different pots of funding are available. Charis also provide fuel vouchers for customers who have a pre-payment meter so that they can top up their gas or electric and our partnership with Pocket Power guides people to find the best deals on a whole host of household bills such as energy, broadband or mobile phones and also helps them to access discounts.

One customer, Lizzie, was so worried about talking to us about arrears, that she ended up with no gas in her home for over a year. One of our tenancy support advisors offered a fuel voucher and then worked with her energy supplier to get arrears that had built up, removed from her gas account. This simple voucher and offer of help were enough for Lizzie to talk to us. She’s now heating her home and working with us to keep on track with rent payments.

Similarly, our helping hand fund provides a voucher for Tesco, Asda or Amazon for our customers who have experienced a change of circumstance, such as a loss of job or a family bereavement. These can be used to buy household goods or food – whatever they need to get through that particular moment.

Although it can be the difference between make or break, we don’t just want to offer emergency support. We want to provide support and advice for the long term. Our offer with We are Digital provides one-to-one training courses, bespoke to each customer, offering support with budgeting and making the most from their money. Payplan also provide independent money and debt advice, helping with both short term advice and longer term debt solutions.

We also work to connect our customers into our other teams that can help such as our Employment and Training team – we have so much to offer. We still have a lot more to do and will continue to develop and improve our offer we’re currently exploring what we can do with furniture, carpeting and finance amongst other areas and so I would love to hear from anyone who has found innovative solutions in these areas.

Our ‘money matters’ offer is not about giving handouts or trying to find a short-term fix. We realise that sometimes you cannot think about the longer term, if you don’t know how you are going to feed your family or heat your home this week. This is why we’re helping now, to enable ‘then’.