Warm home discount scheme leaves people in Britain out in the cold

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My wife, who is disabled, received a letter yesterday saying she should contact the government to find out if she is eligible for the warm home discount scheme.

We did this and she is. However, when they checked who the utilities account holder was, which is me, because it is not in her name, or a joint account, they said she is no longer eligible.

Since I work, and she doesn’t, and is incapable of signing her name or even talking at times, I had taken the easy option and set up the utilities accounts in my name, never thinking it could cause a problem.

This seems unfair, and since it is backdated to August, changing the account details would not help. My wife is on the “priority services register” for all utilities so the energy provider knows we live together at the same address.

SJ, Shoreham-by-Sea

I have discovered that anyone who receives a means-tested benefit such as employment and support allowance (Esa) or jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) is no longer eligible for the warm home discount if their home is smaller than a certain size.

I wonder how many vulnerable people on low incomes this affects? After all, people on low incomes are crammed into small flats by housing associations.

I receive Esa so did not get the £20 a week uplift given to those on universal credit during lockdown – even though universal credit is not yet available where I live. I am fed up with a government that advertises assistance, only to find there is a loophole preventing large numbers of people from claiming it.

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GR, Nottingham

Every year I contact my energy supplier and apply for the warm home discount. I usually complete the form online or by telephone and, without issue, have qualified.

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When I did not receive this year’s payment I contacted the DWP and was advised to check my eligibility using the government’s online test.

Almost immediately I noticed that the form had changed and on completing it received the following notice: “You are not eligible … this is based on the type of property you lived in on 21 August 2022, according to your energy performance certificate.”

I contacted the helpline and was told a new property component had been introduced, which my home had failed. This new criteria will disqualify tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people from a desperately needed payment.

RC, by email

The warm home discount scheme has been overhauled by the government and as a result the group eligible for the automatic £150 rebate on their energy bill this winter has changed and, as these letters show, this has been a big shock to those who relied on the help.

As part of the shake-up the list of qualifying benefits changed and a new “high energy cost” criteria added so the cash is channelled to “those on the lowest incomes and in, or at greatest risk of fuel poverty”.

The positives are most eligible households in England and Wales should get the discount automatically, rather than having to apply as they did in the past and is still the case in Scotland. An extra 780,000 households should receive the rebate, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, boosting the number helped by the scheme to 2.8m.

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The negatives are that while means-tested benefits, such as Esa and JSA, still qualify, disability living allowance and personal independence payments (which are not means-tested) do not. The latter means more than 500,000 households in England and Wales are now ineligible, according to the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, and Scope.

Before the shake-up, working-age low-income households could access the scheme if they were on a qualifying benefit. Now, in England and Wales, they must have a high energy cost score, too. This score is calculated by an algorithm applied to government-held data on the size, age and type of property they live in. This means people struggling to heat old, larger properties are more likely to qualify than those in smaller, new houses and flats that are more energy efficient.

As for SJ’s situation, the rules of the scheme do permit a bill to be in a partner’s name or that of a Department for Work and Pensions appointee. However, they must also be registered on the eligible person’s benefit record. If you are named on your wife’s record you should challenge this decision. There is a helpline (0800 107 8002) you can call.

If you have been affected by the changes to this scheme there is other help you could try to access as outlined in this recent Money Hacks article.

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