This report presents the findings from qualitative research with recent recipients of Child Winter Heating Assistance (Winter 21/22).
Child Winter Heating Assistance (CWHA) is an annual payment made to the most severely disabled children and young people up to, and including, the age of 18 who are in receipt of one of the qualifying benefits to help mitigate the additional heating costs that their households face in the winter months.
The in-depth interviews were carried out by Axiom Research & Consultancy on behalf of the Scottish Government, Social Security Directorate.
The research was carried out with CWHA clients on the impact that CWHA has on household finances and the wider health and wellbeing impacts for disabled children and young people and their families in receipt of the payment.
- The CWHA payment was appreciated and welcomed by all research participants, with respondents expressing a wide range of positive sentiments towards the benefit.
- These included the reduction of financial pressure as the payment was used towards heating bills, reduction in money worries during the most expensive time of the year, boosts in mental wellbeing with the reassurance of being able to afford heating bills, and the reassurance that they could provide a warm bedroom and household more generally for their disabled child throughout the winter.
- The lack of an application process for most recipients was also widely praised for reducing the ‘burden of applying’ for families.
- The vast majority of respondents used CWHA to immediately pay their energy provider in comparison to the year prior where they typically kept the money aside until their bill arrived. This provided the opportunity for respondents to proactively manage the household direct debit payments to their energy provider, which was seen as important to reduce monthly direct debit levels at the start of the winter.
- However, only a minority of respondents were aware that the payment could be used for other means that meet, or help towards meeting, their heating costs, other than energy bills.
- A number of positive impacts were noted. Respondents highlighted the necessity of CWHA in helping them manage contextual crises such as the pandemic and increasing energy costs. Typically, CWHA allowed respondents to keep the heating on for longer which helped to meet the needs of children with certain health conditions. There was also a recognition that a warmer home helped reduce the likelihood of conditions worsening for other family members who had long-term health conditions themselves.
- Despite these positive findings, areas for improvement were also highlighted. Respondents typically received their notification letters after they had received their payment, resulting in key information in the letters including eligibility, purpose of the benefit and payment dates not being remembered.
- In line with this, lack of information from Social Security Scotland was also cited. Respondents were generally uncertain over eligibility, and those who had received CWHA the previous winter (20/21) were uncertain whether they would receive it again.
- Overall, respondents were relying on word of mouth and social media posts from friends to source information on the timing of the payments and from third sector organisations to raise awareness of CWHA.
- Respondents expressed some hesitation about contacting Social Security Scotland to check about eligibility and timing of CWHA. The most common reason for this was that contacting them was perceived to be too much of a hassle. However, prior negative experiences (including with the Department for Work and Pensions and, less commonly, with Social Security Scotland) were also noted.
- There was an appetite for digital communications to be introduced, where appropriate, using text and/or email to issue the notifications. There is a perception that this approach would improve the speed of notifications and help inform recipients before payments are made.
- There were also mixed opinions over when the best time was to receive the payment, with one point of view being to receive the payment earlier. Supposedly, this would be to help respondents proactively manage their bills. However, another opinion was to receive the payment later so that it could be used to cover heating bills at the most expensive times of the year.
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