The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 introduced a range of new benefits devolved to Scotland. Child Winter Heating Assistance (CWHA) is a new benefit that has been implemented using these powers. It is also a unique benefit as it is only available in Scotland. CWHA was first paid by Social Security Scotland for winter 2020-2021.
CWHA targets families of the most severely disabled children and young people to help them heat their homes during the winter months. The most severely disabled children have the highest care needs, and can be most affected by cold temperatures for a long period of time. This means that their homes are most likely to need to be heated more and for longer periods of the day and night.
The current CWHA payment is £214.10. CWHA is not means tested and is therefore paid to anyone who is in receipt of the qualifying benefit during the qualifying week.
The aim of this report was to provide an evaluation of the CWHA payment. As such, this report monitors CWHA’s progress towards meeting short and medium term policy goals and aims to contextualise its contribution within longer term policy goals. This approach is in line with the evaluation strategy for the devolution of disability benefits.
The current evaluation was largely based on externally commissioned qualitative research which involved interviews with CWHA recipients (family members, carers, guardians of children and/or young people who are severely disabled). Interviews were held in February 2022 and involved asking participants about their experiences of receiving CWHA for winter 2020-21 and winter 2021-22, where the payments were £200 and £202 respectively.
The evaluation also draws on data from Social Security Scotland, some of which has been openly published as Official Statistics, and some of which was derived from secondary analysis conducted for this evaluation specifically. Furthermore, the evaluation draws on data from the Client Satisfaction Survey undertaken by Social Security Scotland. The survey was open to everyone who at that time had received either (a) a Social Security Scotland benefit, or (b) a successful decision on a benefit application from Social Security Scotland’s inception.
Key Findings: Impact of Child Winter Heating Assistance
Progress towards short-term goals
Official Statistics show that a total of 18,315 payments were made for winter 2020-2021 and 19,865 were made for winter 2021-2022. These statistics highlight that CWHA helped to increase household income over the winter months. Further secondary analysis conducted by Social Security Scotland highlight the payments made across families varying by age, socio economic status, and rurality.
Findings from the Client Survey suggest that CWHA had a positive impact on recipients, helping them to pay for what they need and to control their finances, likely easing financial pressure. These findings were echoed in the qualitative research where participants spoke about CWHA helping to ease their financial stress and anxieties and, more practically, helping them to pay for their energy bills over the winter months.
Data derived from Official Statistics show that the majority of payments for winter 2020-21 and winter 2021-22 were made by the end of December, showing that the vast majority of recipients had an increased ability to heat their homes during the coldest winter months. In the commissioned qualitative research, participants stated that they were able to keep the heating on for longer, for example, during the night, in order to meet their child’s needs.
However, participants also highlighted that the notification letter from Social Security Scotland arrived after they received the CWHA payment. This late communication led to uncertainty over eligibility or whether they would receive the payment.
Participants of the commissioned qualitative research also said that CWHA helped to mitigate against additional heating costs over the winter, where they used the payment to fund their energy accounts and keep their direct debits as low as possible over this period.
Progress towards medium-term goals
In the commissioned qualitative research, participants said that not receiving the payment would have meant more stress and money worries over the winter period. Some highlighted that an additional stressor would be having to choose between whether to not pay the heating or to cut back on food spend. They also emphasised that the health of their child was dependent on the heating being on for longer, and that CWHA helped them to do this.
Participants tended to voice that they would rather the payment be at the start of December to allow them to pay towards their energy bills as soon as possible and budget their money over this period.
In the commissioned qualitative research, participants spoke about how they had used the CWHA payment in different ways for winter 2020-21 and 2021-22, both of which helped mitigate them from experiencing financial difficulty or insecurity, providing an insight into the mitigation of financial difficulty/insecurity over time.
In the commissioned qualitative research, participants said that the payment itself made them feel that the additional demands they were facing were being recognised. They also praised the automated process and emphasised this made them feel entitled to the benefit.
However, participants also highlighted a lack of communication from Social Security Scotland prior to receiving CWHA as a potential area of improvement. Specifically, participants would have liked to have been notified of their eligibility prior to receiving the payment. They would have also liked to have known that the payment is not a one-off, and that it can be used for other means that meet, or help towards meeting, their heating costs, other than energy bills.
Conclusions and policy considerations
This evaluation highlights that CWHA has largely met its short-term goals, and made some progress towards its medium-term goals. In doing this, it is reasonable to assume that positive progress has been made towards its longer term goals of children and young people having access to a full range of opportunities, and children and young people having the best start in life. However, the evaluation highlights current operational issues regarding CWHA. Therefore, in order to better address the policy goals outlined in this report, it would be beneficial to:
1. Ensure that the payment is made at a time which best meets the needs of families caring for a severely disabled child or young person. Therefore, it would be useful to consider the practicality of issuing CWHA earlier, that is, in early December.
2. Improve Social Security Scotland communication so that recipients are (i) notified about their eligibility of receiving the payment prior to receiving it, (ii) know they can use the payment for other means that meet, or help towards meeting, their heating costs, and (iii) know that payment is an annual occurrence rather than a one-off.
3. Consider other methods of communication such as text messages or emails for sending information about the payment to CWHA recipients.
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