Two-thirds of low income workers with disabilities struggle to afford to heat their homes

New research by the national charity Turn2us has found that over two-thirds (67%) of people with disabilities on low incomes are struggling to afford their energy costs, despite being in work.

Worryingly, of those who are struggling, over half (51%) have done so for more than a year.

The research reveals that nearly two-fifths (37%) of all low income workers with disabilities have missed one or more payment to their energy supplier in the last twelve months. Over a quarter (29%) are struggling with other essential bills, with Council Tax topping the list of payments they’re behind on (32%).

As the weather turns colder, the research also uncovers how low income workers with disabilities will cope with these costs through the winter. Of those worried about their energy costs, a huge 72% feel they will have to cut back on or not use their heating, whilst over half (53%) said they would resort to cutting back on food. A third (33%) anticipate that the stress of energy bills will exacerbate their health problems.

There are 2.3 million households living in fuel poverty in England alone*, and it is estimated that nearly half of these are in work.** As debate continues around proposed cuts to the tax credits system, there is growing concern that household finances could be even harder hit from next year.

Turn2us’ research also suggests a lack of awareness of the help that could be available to disabled people on low incomes, or potential reluctance to access it. Of those who are struggling to pay their energy costs, only 7% have turned to an advice organisation for help. Almost three-quarters (72%) have not checked their eligibility for welfare benefits in the last twelve months, whilst 76% are unaware that some energy suppliers have charitable trusts set up to help certain customers.

Heating BillsThis winter, Turn2us is running its No Cold Homes campaign specifically to help more people who are unable to afford to heat their homes. The charity is encouraging anyone in financial hardship to use its free online service to see if they are eligible for welfare benefits, charitable grants and other support – additional income which could help them manage their energy costs over the colder months.

Simon Hopkins, Chief Executive of Turn2us said: “Our research paints a startling picture, revealing the extent to which families are struggling to heat their homes, even though they’re in work. It is clear that more needs to be done to help raise awareness of the financial support and other help available to people on low incomes to help them manage their energy costs.

We know that this is an issue that affects a wide range of people, and alongside working households, many others will suffer this winter. We believe that no one should have to live in a cold home. Through our campaign, we urge anyone struggling to check what support could be available.”

The No Cold Homes campaign runs from 18 November to 16 December 2015. As part of the campaign, Turn2us is hosting an online celebrity clothes auction (30 November – 9 December) to raise awareness of people’s struggles to heat their homes, and funds to help more people affected.

For more information, please visit www.turn2us.org.uk/NoColdHomes.

“It seems this issue has become a seasonal fixture”

Why the Winter Fuel Payment scheme isn’t fair on those who need it most

Last year may have been among the warmest years on record but that hasn’t affected the growing pressure on Government to reform the Winter Fuel Payment scheme and current energy efficiency measures.

Gas FuelAccording to Age UK, one older person dies every seven minutes from the cold and many more become seriously ill as a result of not being able to afford to heat their homes properly. Despite throwing millions of pounds at the problem each year, neither the Government’s winter fuel scheme nor Ofgem’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) have been able to combat this horrific trend.

New findings from Policy Exchange have shown that fuel cost is not a problem endemic to older people living on their own and that it is of a much wider scale than previously thought. In its report ‘Warmer Homes: Improving fuel poverty and energy efficiency in the UK’, the think tank suggested that of the 2.3m homes currently in fuel poverty, some 1.1m of those are working families.

It also found that only 10% of Winter Fuel Payment recipients were technically living in ‘fuel poverty’ and that an opt-in scheme had to be introduced that would save some £400m, which could be reallocated to those who needed it most.

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Government strategy on energy efficiency in general has fallen under a lot of scrutiny amid lobbyist claims that subsidies are fundamentally flawed. ‘Warmer Homes’ found that only 33% of fuel poverty funding actually goes to help those people who need it most and suggested that an opt-in scheme would work better. It said the focus of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme needed to be shifted onto fuel-poor households, which would raise an additional £375m-a-year to allocate to fuel poor households.

Last year the Department for Work and Pensions admitted to journalists that it is unsure how much in fuel payments (usually £200 – £300) is returned but around 300 citizens had decided to who feel they do not need it, spurred by one good-spirited person who wrote to the Chancellor returning her payment. For many people, not being able to adequately heat their homes severely affects their ability to live independently and be a key factor in deciding whether they go into residential care before they may feel ready to do so.

There is also a growing debate on whether ex-pats living on warmer climates should get winter fuel payments. It is currently set to end as part of the shake-up that involves using an average temperature test based on whether the country is hotter than the warmest parts of the UK.

Energy efficiency should be infrastructure priority

In 2014, the Government reviewed the issue of fuel poverty and set a new target for all 2.3m households that are technically fuel-poor and to get them to a Level C of fuel efficiency by 2030.

Richard Howard, Head of Environment and Energy at Policy Exchange criticised the Government’s current efforts and said: “Based on current policies, the Government is going to fall well short of this target. Current Government spending amounts to around £500m per year in England in upgrading the energy efficiency of fuel-poor homes. But actually the required level of spending is around £1.2bn, so there’s a funding gap of around £700m per year.”
It is clear that winter fuel payments are a critical support for many older people living in fuel poverty but much more is needed to ensure the scheme helps those people who need it most.

Credits – CARING HOMES

“For those of you out their with blogs, on Twitter of Facebook etc etc, keep highlighting and pushing these issues as it’s all we have to indirectly get balance and fairness in our society”