Britain’s biggest pensioner organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) has warned that the government’s new Warm Home Discount (WHD) scheme needs urgent reform to prevent hundreds of thousands of older people missing out on much needed support with their energy bills.
Under the WHD scheme, participating energy suppliers give a rebate of £120 on their electricity bill to a specified group of their older customers on low incomes, known as the Core Group. For the first year of the scheme, 2011/12, eligibility for the Core Group rebate is linked just to those on the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit. This criteria will be widened over the next three years.
In addition, participating energy suppliers also have discretion to extend support to those low income and vulnerable households who are not part of the Core Group, known as the Broader Group. But the NPC is concerned that the government and the big six energy companies are not doing enough to publicise or explain the scheme to those who might benefit.
- The big six energy companies have adopted different criteria for the Broader Group, with some being more inclusive than others. Three companies only give additional support to pensioners who are disabled, whereas another offers support to those below a certain income (see notes below).
- British Gas has now closed the wider support scheme for anyone who joins after October 11th and do not intend to open it again until the end of next year. Anyone who switches to British Gas now could therefore miss out on support this year.
- E.ON has also closed the wider scheme to new customers.
- EDF appears to be the only company that has actually written their customers about the WHD scheme.
- The Department for Work and Pensions recent letters about the winter fuel allowance made absolutely no mention of the fact that people may be eligible for the WHD scheme because they say it is the responsibility of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). However, DECC has yet to issue any information on the scheme, apart from a statement on their website.
- There is a website called www.homeheathelpline.org.uk set up by EnergyUKsponsored by the big 6 energy companies, but it makes absolutely no mention anywhere of the WHD scheme.
Dot Gibson, NPC general secretary said: “As winter approaches, it is completely unacceptable that the Warm Home Discount scheme appears to be a shambles. There has not been enough publicity about the scheme, it’s too complicated and pensioners are unsure whether they qualify for extra help or not. The cost of fuel is rising and the government’s cut to the winter fuel allowance means that pensioners need all the help they can get to keep warm this winter, yet neither the government nor the big six energy companies seem particularly bothered about letting people know what help is available. It’s no good simply relying on a message on a website, when the vast majority of older people don’t even own a computer.”
The NPC is calling for:
- The big six energy companies to adopt the widest possible criteria for the Broader Scheme and open it to all new customers who are eligible
- The government and the big six energy companies to publicise the WHD scheme to their customers, especially those who do not have access to the internet
- The government to raise the winter fuel allowance to £500 for every pensioner household
Notes for editors
1. British Gas eligibility for the Broader Group scheme offers support to:
- Consumers who are in receipt of benefits and have a vulnerable condition
- Consumers who have an annual household income of less than £16,190 and a vulnerable condition
- Consumers who have an annual household income of less than £16.190 and are spending more than 10% of their income to provide adequate heating (21 degrees for main living room and 18 degrees for other occupied rooms)
2. EDF, Npower and Scottish Power only extend the Broader Group scheme to pensioners who are receiving certain disability benefits
3. E.ON and Scottish and Southern Energy Broader Group schemes gives support to those pensioners who receive either Pension Credit Guarantee, Guarantee and Savings or Savings element only