Calls to domestic abuse helplines have dramatically surged during the pandemic and now a power company is offering victims a safe space and trained call centre staff to help make sure they get the support they need.
UK Power Networks, which delivers electricity to 19 million people, has created a Safe Spaces button on the front page of its website and is training customer advisors to recognise signs of abuse when they talk to customers across London, the East and South East of England.
The company’s website attracts over 400,000 views every month and anyone clicking on the Safe Spaces digital button will see national and locally tailored support. Very importantly, it does not leave a trace on the user’s internet history and victims can exit the page quickly if they feel in danger of being seen using it.
The power company’s Suffolk-based call centre is staffed 24/7 and staff there are being trained by Against Violence and Abuse (AVA) to listen and identify victims of domestic violence and signpost them to national abuse helplines and local support services.
More than a 250,000 domestic abuse-related offences were recorded between April and June last year during the first lockdown, according to the Office for National Statistics.
UK Power Networks also enhanced its home safety and energy efficiency programmes for victims of domestic abuse in or at risk of fuel poverty, building on an existing partnership with the organisation Home Energy Efficiency Training (HEET).
Michael Horwood from UK Power Networks’ Customer Services, who led the initiative, says: “We wanted to do more to support victims of domestic abuse, which is why we are proud to be the first electricity distribution network operator (DNO) to join the online Safe Spaces initiative.
“We have taken a multi-faceted approach to help address such a key issue during the pandemic, from advanced staff training, embedding support on our website and delivering tailored support such as home safety and energy efficiency measures to victims of domestic abuse in fuel poverty.”
Lesley Watson, from UK Power Networks’ customer service team, one of 35 to have already received the training, comments: “It was very interesting learning what kind of guidance to offer people without getting them in trouble and being aware of the danger they may be in. I think it was a very good idea to offer the training and to know what signals to look for with colleagues and people outside work as well.”
Ellie Cox, AVA’s training administrator explains: “We’re thrilled to have trained UK Power Networks and really impressed by their commitment to train their staff on domestic abuse, which goes above and beyond.
“From the first conversation it was obvious how important this issue was to the organisation and we admire UK Power Networks choice to be active and help make change.
“The opportunity to disclose experiences of abuse on a safe phone call which a perpetrator won’t suspect, may be life changing for those trapped at home or with little agency to reach services. We look forward to continuing to see the progress of UK Power Networks.”