Steve Beasant

Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Great Grimsby and Councillor for the East Marsh Learn more

Six million households will cut back on heating this winter – while free help goes unclaimed

by Steve Beasant on 13 September, 2012

Consumer Focus, Citizens Advice, Age UK and National Children’s Bureau, are urging people in England worried about their energy bills to find out if they are eligible for free heating and insulation improvements from Warm Front.

The call comes as new research from Consumer Focus shows that four out of ten households (39 per cent) are worried about affording their energy bills this winter. Of these people 70 per cent (around six million households across England) plan to cut back on heating their home this winter due to these worries. Yet at the same time millions of pounds worth of help is being left unclaimed under Warm Front, the Government’s scheme to help the poorest households in England to make their homes warmer and cut their energy bills.

Over 2011-12 the Warm Front scheme was under-spent by over £50 million. The number of applications for the scheme fell sharply after being over-subscribed in 2010-11. Claim rates are again low this year. Across England only 11,766 people applied to Warm Front between April and July 2012. Although higher than the claim rate in April – July 2011 when there were only 6,574 applications, this is a huge fall compared to the 133,034 applications received in the whole of the financial year 2010-2011.

The Government is introducing changes today (12 September) that will make more people and families with children, who are living on low incomes, eligible for the scheme. As the eligibility criteria for help under the Warm Front scheme is widening, even if someone has been turned down before they may be able to get help this year.

As this is the last year of Warm Front, the organisations are joining together to promote the scheme to make sure that as many vulnerable people and families as possible get this help. The heating and insulation improvements Warm Front offers could help thousands of households to stay warm and well and save up to £600 off their energy bills each year.

Jonathan Stearn, Programme Director at Consumer Focus, said: ‘A cold home can damage your health. So it’s very worrying that high energy prices are leading so many people to cut back on their heating. We want to make sure that as many people as possible are helped to cut their bills and stay warm and well through the Warm Front scheme this year. We would urge anyone struggling with their bills to find out if they can claim free help.’ 

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice said: ‘We’re really worried people are struggling with their fuel bills because they live in homes that haemorrhage heat.  Yet there is lots of help out there to make your home warmer – especially if you are on a low income.  Your local CAB can help you apply for a Warm Front grant and Citizens Advice will be helping people save money on their energy bills during Big Energy Saving Week.’ 

Mervyn Kohler, Special Adviser for Age UK, said:  ‘Warm Front is being phased out.   When this year’s budget is exhausted, that’s it.  But so far, applications are really low, and the scheme may gift an under-spend back to the Treasury.  A cold home is a serious health hazard, and older households (who are particularly at risk) can act now, knowing that by Christmas they will be warmer and better prepared for the dangers and worries of a cold winter’. 

Rachel Monaghan, Senior Development Officer, Health and Well-being at the National Children’s Bureau, said: ‘Some families with children in the UK will have to make the choice whether to heat or eat this winter. We know many families are struggling to cope with rising fuel bills and are having to cut back on other essentials like food. We also know that growing up in a cold and damp home can have a real effect on children’s health, learning and enjoyment of life. The Warm Front scheme can help cut bills and keep families warm and healthy, so we urge anyone worried about their fuel bills to find out as soon as they can if they are eligible to receive support.’

Warm Front offers measures worth up to £3,500 (£6,000 if you need oil central heating). These measures are free to most people who receive help from the scheme and can make a big difference to their health and financial well-being, in particular in affording other bills and saving for emergencies. When asked what they would spend up to an extra £600 a year on if they had it, those on the lowest incomes said they would spend it on: paying the bills (59 per cent); saving for emergencies (54 per cent); home repairs / improvements (46 per cent); a holiday (34 per cent); presents for family / friends (25 per cent) or new clothes (22 per cent). 

People can find out if they can get free help from Warm Front by calling 0800 316 2805 or by visiting their local Citizens Advice Bureau or Age UK. Further information and an online application form are also available on www.direct.gov.uk.  It currently takes on average just eight weeks to install heating or insulation from the day you apply. So if people apply now their home could be warmer at a lower cost, by Christmas.

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