ESRC Just Energy meets energy poverty experts in Barcelona

On Monday, 28 May, Naomi Creutzfeldt and Marine Cornelis (expert consultant) organised a first series of meetings with energy poverty experts in Barcelona, Spain.
Barca 1
Catalonia is at the forefront of consumer protection and the fight against energy poverty in Spain and in Europe, driven by very committed civil society groups and receptive public institutions. For example, the 2015 Catalan Law 24/2015 on energy poverty was initiated by consumer and energy poverty NGOs. 
In parallel, the fight against energy poverty has gained momentum since 2016, when a dramatic incident (caused by energy poverty) attracted the attention of the public and the media. This influenced policy-makers, social services, institutions and utilities to implement more inclusive measures.
In November 2016, “Rosa PV”, 81, died alone in a fire started by candles she used for light in her flat in the city of Reus in the south of Barcelona. Her electricity had been cut off due to non-payment of bills. The terrible case of Rosa has become a symbol of the dramatic effects of energy poverty. All the warning signs of an upcoming disaster were present. Her personal circumstances and the appalling quality of the flat she lived in resulted in the inability to afford paying her utility bills and manage unbearable debts. This led to the drastic measure of cutting her electricity supply. Rosa’s case fell through the cracks of the public and social services, which have since been adapting their procedures to handle these kind of emergencies more efficiently.
Naomi and Marine met and discussed issues of energy poverty with a wide range of experts and local actors: energy poverty NGOs, activists, engineers, scholars, representatives of the industry and of the Catalan ombudsman service.
The ESRC Just Energy team will continue monitoring the issue closely in order to understand the role of the justice and ADR systems for the most fragile groups of society.

Naomi and Chris present research at Socio-Legal Studies Association Conference

Naomi and Chris attended the Socio-Legal Studies Association conference in Bristol on 27-29 March 2018. They presented an overview of the ESRC Just Energy project at the ‘Access to Justice in Context’ in stream.

Naomi SLSA

Naomi provided an overview of the project and its aims, and concentrated on setting out how the research would address questions around vulnerability and energy poverty. She highlighted the use of theoretical frameworks drawn from work on energy cultures and energy justice.

Chris SLSA

Chris discussed the research questions the project will try to answer, the importance of the energy sector as a case study for investigating the issue of access to justice, and some of the issues the project hopes to address on the theme of ‘designing justice’.

A copy of the presentation which provides further information can be found here:

SLSA Presentation

Expert consultants join the Just Energy research team

Marine Cornelis and Carolyn Hirst have recently joined the Just Energy project as consultants working on research and policy analysis activities. This post provides a brief introduction to each of them.

MarineMarine Cornelis is an expert and independent consultant in legal and policy developments regarding Energy, Consumer Protection, Energy Poverty and Dispute Resolution, at EU and international levels. She got into consumer protection and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) through her 6-year experience as the Secretary-General of NEON, the Network of Energy Ombudsmen and ADR bodies. Marine was leading the association in its advocacy, lobbying and European public affairs activities. Prior to joining NEON, Marine worked as a complaint manager for the Belgian energy ombudsman and completed a traineeship at the European Parliament, as well as other work experiences focused on the variety of energy issues and public affairs. Marine was born in France, but she has lived in Belgium, Bulgaria and Hungary, and is currently living in Italy. She is fluent in French, Italian and English, and has good knowledge of Spanish and basis in Dutch and Bulgarian.

CarolynCarolyn Hirst is an independent researcher and consultant with her own business, Hirstworks, through which she practices as a mediator, investigator, complaints reviewer, trainer and coach. She is a part-time Housing Mediation Project Development Worker at Strathclyde University and a Visiting Lecturer at Queen Margaret University. Carolyn is the Mediation Practice Supervisor for the Cyrenians, a Lay Member of Employment Tribunals (Scotland) and an Ordinary Member of the First Tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber). She previously worked as a Deputy Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and as the Interim Principal Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services. Before that she worked in Social Housing for nearly 20 years, latterly as a Deputy Director of a Housing and Care Organisation. Current Board positions include being a Non-Executive Director of NHS Lothian and Vice-Chair of Edinburgh Joint Integration Board.

Marine is currently working on a mapping exercise and producing a policy analysis report. Carolyn is developing a literature review and bibliography to support the project. Their work will feed into forthcoming outputs of the project. We are delighted to be benefiting from their expertise and looking forward to working with them both.


Ombuds reform in the UK

On 5 February 2018, Chris spoke at a seminar organised by JUSTICE, UKAJI, and the Ombudsman Association. The theme of the seminar was “Complaints about public services – where next for the ombud?”

untitledChris discussed a report co-written with Tom Mullen (University of Glasgow) and Nial Vivian (Queen Margaret University) on evaluating the work of the Complaints Standards Authority of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

This innovative approach to standard setting in complaints handling combines a top-down and bottom-up approach through establishing complaint handler networks and raising standards of complaint handling by public bodies in the jurisdiction of the ombud, as well as encouraging ‘local’ ownership of complaint handling.

The study’s conclusions were generally positive: the Complaint Standards Authority approach had substantial potential to deliver improvements in complaint handling and wider public administration. At the same time, Chris noted that more granular data is needed, such as on specific subjects of complaint, and there was some inconsistency in data collection, for example in recording subjective measures such as learning from complaints.

Chris pointed out that questions also remain about outcomes and what to measure in terms of improvements.

A copy of Chris’ slides can be found here:

Scotlands Complaints Standards Authority 5 Feb 18 FINAL

A blog post providing an overview of the seminar has also been published on the UKAJI website. This can be accessed here.

ESRC Just Energy project attends launch of the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory

Naomi and Marine Cornelis attended the launch of the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory in Brussels yesterday. Marine has recently joined our project as a consultant and is providing us with expert policy research and analysis.

The launch event provided stakeholders and the wider public with information on the objectives and instruments of the Observatory and was an opportunity to obtain feedback on their expectations of it. Marine was one of the speakers and addressed the event in her capacity as General Secretary of the National Energy Ombudsman Network (NEON). Marine highlighted the key role of ombuds and ADR schemes in tackling energy poverty. She discussed the role of ombuds, noting that they are not judges, but they act like whistleblowers, they hear, they care and they report the issues and have a crucial mission to steer the sector and influence policymakers and regulators. Marine also highlighted Naomi’s previous research on ADR and the lessons that could be drawn from that.


Photo: Marine addresses launch event

The creation of the EU Energy Poverty Observatory is part of the Commission’s efforts to address energy poverty across EU countries. The Observatory aims to provide a user-friendly and open-access resource that will promote public engagement on the issue of energy poverty, disseminate information and good practice, facilitate knowledge sharing among stakeholders, as well as support informed decision making at local, national and EU level. The Observatory is being developed by a consortium led by the University of Manchester and includes, as core partners, Ecofys, National Energy Action, the European Policy Centre, Intrasoft International and the Wuppertal Institut.

The launch event was a valuable opportunity for networking and developing contacts with key stakeholders interested in energy poverty and vulnerability in the energy sector. We look forward to following up on this and contributing to the work of the European Poverty Observatory in future.

More information about the launch event can be accessed here.

More information about the Observatory is available here.

Naomi speaking at event marking 2 years of obligatory ADR for French consumers

Naomi will be addressing an exchange workshop taking stock of ADR in France, two years after the implementation of the ADR directive across Europe.

The event is being organised by the French energy ADR body (le médiateur national de l’énergie) in order to exchange views on consumer ADR in France and Europe on this two year anniversary.

Naomi will be discussing her research on how consumers perceive the ADR process and the degree to which it engenders trust and is seen as legitimate. She will also outline the ESRC Just Energy project and describe what the project aims to achieve over the next three years and how it will benefit stakeholders and consumers in the European energy sector.

The event will also be an opportunity to connect with key European stakeholders interested in ADR and access to justice in the energy sector.

For full details of the event and other speakers involved, the full programme can be accessed here:

Naomi speaks at event marking 50 years of ombuds in the UK

On 4 December 2017, Rob Behrens gave the inaugural lecture “Looking back to look forward: celebrating 50 years of the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO) and a glimpse into the future” hosted by the Institute of Public Affairs at the London School of Economics.

Rob shared reflections on what can be learned  from 50 years of the PHSO being in operation, and on the challenges which the PHSO and the wider ombuds community face now and in the future.

Naomi responded raising issues about the shift in understanding and expectations of the ombudsman – where citizens have stronger opinions about what the state, public services, its agencies, and ombuds ought to deliver.

Naomi questioned the idea of an “ombuds brand” – is there such a thing as a clearly identifiable ombuds ideal-type?

And how can ombuds respond to their users’ needs and expectations if those are typically not matched with what an ombuds is meant to deliver?

Naomi shared some insights from her empirical findings of ombuds users (public and private), which considered issues of timeliness, trust, and fairness. Finally, she discussed some findings of the ‘ombuds watchers’ project that she and Chris conducted, looking at groups campaigning for ombuds reform.

The event was well attended by a mix of ombuds, academics, lawyers, and complainants.


ESRC Just Energy Project Meets Key Stakeholders in Warrington

Naomi and Chris met with key stakeholders from the National Energy Ombudsman Network (NEON) in Warrington on 10 and 11 October.
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Image: Marine Cornelis (General Secretary, NEON), Naomi, and Chris
This included a networking dinner on 10 October, at which we met ombuds practitioners from Romania, France, Ireland, Belgium, Malta, and the United Kingdom.
This was an opportunity to provide information about the ESRC Just Energy project and to begin the process of collecting project data.
Following on from this event, Naomi and Chris will begin working with NEON members to complete a mapping exercise, establishing baseline data on access to justice for energy consumers in vulnerable circumstances across European jurisdictions.
While in Warrington, the ESRC Just Energy project also made contact with Harriet Thompson, from the European Energy Poverty Observatory (EPOV). We identified a number of synergies between our projects and the work of EPOV and we look forward to contributing to its very important work as our research develops.

Understanding the user perspective of justice systems

Naomi spoke today at the European Law Institute (ELI)  annual conference in Vienna. Her panel discussed the preliminary findings of the joint ELI-ENCJ Project on the Principled Relationship of Formal and Informal Justice through the Courts and Alternative Dispute Resolution.

IMG_7476 (002)

The Project has already consulted on the risks arising from different methods of ADR, and the relationship between court-based and non-court-based dispute resolution processes. It also consulted on a code of good practice as to what courts and judges need to assess when considering or requiring the parties to participate in an ADR process. The feedback received will be analysed and further discussed during the panel. The Project Team will present its final report at the end of 2017.

Naomi, drawing upon empirical data, outlined the importance of taking the user perspective into account when designing ADR – especially thinking about access to justice and how vulnerable users can be integrated into the process. Further, the complex relationship between the courts and ADR needs to be understood though the lens of the national context as well as the type of dispute being talked about.

Not all ADR is the same!

A copy of the conference programme is available to download here: Conference Brochure.