Posted: 01 March 2017

Keeping families warm

Families living in Fuel Poverty

Growing up in a cold home can have a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of children.  However, for too many families across Britain, it can be a struggle to keep the heating on through the winter because of the cost. The Government’s own fuel poverty measure now recognises that families with children represent the largest group of fuel poor households – representing 45% of the whole fuel poor population.

In the winter of 2014, we surveyed families to find out about their experiences of fuel poverty, with two thirds (66%) of families reporting that they were likely to turn down the heating in winter, because they were worried about being able to afford the heating bill – representing an estimated 5 million families.

In a new analysis of the Living Costs and Food Survey 2014 by the ONS, we found that families with children spend around £1550 per year on average on their fuel bills - around £300 per year more on average than households without children.

The Warm Home Discount can be one way of addressing this gap in costs, by ensuring that low income families are able to keep the heating on through the cold winter months.

What is The Warm Home Discount?

The Warm Home Discount (WHD), which provides a £140 discount on energy bills, can be a critical form of support for low income families struggling with the costs of fuel. In our Better Use of Data publication, a member of one family who had received the WHD, said:

'The Warm Home Discount was a lifeline for me and my family. It meant my quarterly winter bill was under £300, instead of over £400. I had more to buy food for my family and I could keep the heating on for longer.'

People are eligible for the WHD if they are either in the 'core' group of low-income pensioners, or in a 'broader' group of vulnerable households – including some low income families with children.

However, whilst eligible low-income pensioners automatically have the money credited against their fuel bill, the broader group of vulnerable households have to apply to their supplier for support.  Even if they do apply, they are not guaranteed to receive the help they need since provision is at the discretion of the supplier.

The Warm Home Discount was a lifeline for me and my family

As a result, too often, families in poverty miss out on this discount, often simply because they are not aware that it exists. As one parent put it to us in our Warm and Informed summary publication:

 '(An advisor from The Children’s Society) told me about the WHD. I wouldn’t have known. It made a big difference. I told family and neighbours, passed it on! We do that a lot. So there are two or three families better off because of that bit of advice.' 

As temperatures plummeted as low as -10c in part of England and Wales this winter, only 1 in 3 of UK’s poorest children are benefitting from the Warm Home Discount, leaving as many as 2.6 million children out in the cold.

What we are asking for

Automatic provision of the Warm Home Discount is a simple and effective way of ensuring that households get the support they need with energy costs. It is already provided in this way for pensioners, and the Digital Economy Bill includes measures which would allow this approach to be applied for families with children as well.

find out more in our Whd amendment briefing

The Government have committed to consulting on the future of the Warm Home Discount this year. We will be asking for automatic provision of the discount for families in fuel poverty – to help ensure less children live in homes left cold, simply because of the cost of turning on the heating.

By Alexandra Turner - Research team

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