Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Warm Home Discount - fuel poor failing to claim the £135 allowance

In Hyndburn in the Winter 4,340 children could be living in a home that cannot afford to turn the heating on, according to The Children’s Society which has carried out extensive research into the condition of homes where children live in poverty. The cost of keeping a home adequately warm for an average family of 2 parents and 2 children is now estimated by the Society to be £1400 a year. Many families, in my constituency and nationally, have been unable to receive support for this large but necessary payment.

The Warm Home Discount was introduced in April 2011 and meant that the ‘Big Six’ Domestic energy suppliers had to provide £135 (expected to be enough to pay a typical families heating for a month) towards energy bills for low income, vulnerable households. Low income pensioners rightly get this amount deducted from their energy bills automatically because they are in the ‘core’ group to receive this discount. But other non-‘core’ groups need to apply for supplier help and in these cases the energy companies are not obliged to provide discount in every case, so they do not.

This has meant that many families have been excluded from this because they are in work, even though this work does not pay them enough to keep their home warm for the year. These families are then expected to choose between eating food and warming the house during the cold winter periods. While others have considered taking out a loan in order to avoid that difficult decision, which will later result in even less money in the household.

Nationally in the winter between 2011 and 2012 there were 110 more deaths, with coldness seen as a major factor by the Children’s Society. This should not continue and the Warm Home Discount, which is to be reviewed from 2015-2016, needs to be changed. As the Children’s Society proposes eligibility could be changed to incorporate all households with less than £10,000 per year, by moving them into the ‘core’ eligibility group with pensioners. This would also mean that low-income households would automatically get money off their energy bills in the cold winter months helping parents to avoid the impossible choice between heating the home at night and putting food on the table. Hopefully turning the 4,340 children living in a cold home during winter in Hyndburn to 0.