Posted: 29 January 2015

Today’s heating-support announcement is a big step forward

Last winter two-thirds of families with children, around 5 million families, thought they were likely to turn down their heating over the winter because of the cost. Of these, more than half said that they were worried about their children becoming ill because their home was too cold.

The Warm Home Discount is a crucial form of support, providing a £140 discount on energy bills for struggling families. For example, one family who received the discount told us:

‘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 could buy food for my family and I could keep the heating on for longer.'

However, our Behind Cold Doors report identified that last winter, nearly 2 million children living in poverty were in families that missed out on the Warm Home Discount. The impact of this was further reinforced by our Show Some Warmth report, published this month, which showed that children in families in energy debt were three times more likely to have been ill last winter than other children. 

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

In 2015-16, low income families (those with an income under £16,190 per year) who either have a child under 5 or a disabled child living in the household, will be eligible for support.

As such, we welcome today’s announcement from Government that they are standardising eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount across suppliers, which will help to reduce the confusion and complexity that prevents many families from applying for support.

A really positive step

This is a really positive step forward, and will help to address problems caused by lack of knowledge of the Warm Home Discount rebate. 

Evidence from families we work with suggests that knowledge of the rebate is alarmingly low. When we interviewed families with young children struggling with their energy bills, only three out of the 11 families had heard of the scheme. Only two families had received a Warm Home Discount.

Another had been told they would receive the rebate, but as they changed energy supplier before the award was made, they were subsequently told they did not meet their new supplier's eligibility criteria and no longer qualified for support.

...but more needs to be done

However, despite this progress, many families living in poverty will continue to miss out on support. We believe that more can be done to help children and families. It is vital the Government makes the Warm Home Discount automatically available to all families with children who are living in poverty — no child should have to grow up in a cold home.

Our Show Some Warmth report made a series of recommendations, and we would still urge the Government to consider the following: 

  1. Change the statutory guidance or law so Ofgem includes families as a vulnerable group
  2. Prevent energy companies from charging customers who pay by prepayment meter more than customers who pay by other methods
  3. Make further investment in improving the energy efficiency of the homes of low-income families

Get involved

Through our Show Some Warmth campaign we're asking energy companies to show some warmth to children living in families who are facing energy debt.

Please join in.

By David Ayre - Policy team
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Show some warmth: Energy companies need to protect families in debt

Posted: 21 January 2015