Full text: The role of energy providers in tackling energy poverty (214)

24 their payments, others need more assistance. They can only be a first measure to avoid disconnection or indebtedness, but need to be complemented by other measures, such as energy audits. Social and personal challenges that come on top of income poverty are frequently mentioned in the literature (see, for example, Boardman, 2010; Thomson et al., 2017). This is confirmed by all interviewees as a contributing factor to energy poverty. Challenges include separation from a partner, long-term unemployment or chronic illness of a household member. In their study on energy poor households in Vienna, Brunner et al. (2012) found that the scope of action to improve the situation through behavioural changes is very limited. On the other hand, Boltz & Pichler (2014) argue that behavioural changes can substantially lower a household’s energy consumption. In line with the latter, assessing and improving energy consumption behaviour is a crucial part of energy audits by the Umweltberatung. All interviewees argued that, to some extent, behavioural changes can reduce a household’s energy consumption. Some of the strategies that households use to cope with energy poverty can actually have the opposite effect, for example taking long, hot showers instead of using central heating. A crucial factor in encouraging and monitoring behavioural changes is to give a household control over its energy consumption is a key component of helping a household coming out of energy poverty. Existing literature does not deal with the issue of providing information and empowering consumers by explaining energy bills, teaching them how to read meters and providing counsel about the best contracts. Yet, this was a recurring theme in all interviews and deemed as crucial by all interviewees. Several of the interviewed social workers from different institutions argued that often the first step in assisting a client is to help them get an overview of their energy bills and debts. As part of the energy audit, counsellors instruct clients on how they can monitor their own consumption, as they are often unaware of the amount of energy they consume and do not know how to read a meter. Several of the interviewees criticised the fact that energy bills only come once a year and therefore clients have no overview about their consumption. One suggested a prepaid system, which will allow low-income households to monitor more closely how much money is spent on energy. Wien Energie do offer prepaid meters, but they are rarely used. The Court of Auditors suggests that this is because the costs of installing and running these meters that fall onto the consumers. With the upcoming introduction of smart meters, closer monitoring of energy consumption will be made easier (Rechnungshof Österreich, 2020). However, the energy consultant warned that for some customers the smart meter is too complicated. It is important to empower customers to be in control of their consumption and their spending on energy. Further research should investigate how to best structure the payment system and what information is crucial to empower consumers to monitor their own habits. Overall, interviewees stressed that the key to the programme’s success was the fact that it combined a mix of different measures, namely behavioural changes in addition to long-term changes in the housing infrastructure. 5.3. Sustainability of the Wiener Energieunterstützung and the Ombudsteam at Wien Energie

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