The UK government's Warm Home Discount scheme (WHD) is seen as vital by those who receive it but it is failing to help significant numbers of people in Scotland who are in fuel poverty, according to new research by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) and Changeworks.
The WHD scheme, which was first introduced in 2011, is intended to target money to people on low incomes to help them pay their fuel bills. The rate for 2020/21 is a one-off payment of £140.
However, research published today in CAS’ 'Mind the Fuel Poverty Gap' report has found that, while those who receive the WHD rely on this to afford their bills, too many people who are eligible for it are not receiving it.
An estimated 29-32% of Scottish households are eligible for WHD, but only 9.3% currently claim it. This suggests that over two thirds are missing out on vital help.
The publication of the research comes as several suppliers open for applications to the scheme including E.ON, npower, Scottish Power, Utility Warehouse and Utilita.
Commenting on the report, CAS Fair Markets spokesperson Kate Morrison said:
"The Warm Home Discount, in principle, is a very good scheme. Where the money actually gets to the people who need it, our research finds that it is greatly appreciated and helps those families stay warm without putting them in financial difficulty.
"The problem our report identifies - and this is backed up by the experience of CAB advisers across Scotland - is that too many of the households who need this kind of help are not receiving the WHD. We believe that suppliers could do more in the way of application assistance for households in vulnerable situations.
"We want to be clear that we think it is absolutely critical that the WHD fund is maintained, but there need to be more efforts made to ensure that people who need this support actually get it. Every household in Scotland pays towards this fund through their bills, including those in fuel poverty, so a one third success rate is clearly not acceptable, and nor is that fact that families across Scotland are suffering the cold or going into debt to keep the heating on when they don't need to.
“Fuel poverty support payments are vital for those struggling with their bills but in the longer term this scheme needs to be redesigned to ensure that it is targeted to reach everyone it needs to.
"We have shared the report with the UK government and with energy providers, and we hope they will re-double their efforts to make sure all consumers know that this assistance is available. We also hope that by publishing our research today, we will help make consumers aware of the WHD and claim it. Nearly one third of all Scottish households could claim WHD, so it is worth seeking out.
"If you need help with WHD or are having problems paying your fuel bills in general, you can get free, expert advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau."