Child Winter Heating Assistance: evaluation report

The evaluation describes a number of positive findings for the CWHA payment, but also highlighted some potential areas for improvement.

This document is part of a collection


In this chapter of the report, the data sources outlined in the methodology section (bespoke commissioned research, Official Statistics, and the Social Security Scotland Client Survey) are used to evaluate CWHA’s progress towards its short-term, and medium-term goals as well as its likely but less tangible progress towards longer term goals.

Progress towards short-term goals

The short-term policy goals of the payment are:

  • Household income is increased across the winter months
  • Reductions in financial pressure regarding increased heating costs
  • Increased ability to heat the home during the winter months
  • Mitigation of additional heating costs over the winter

Household income is increased across the winter months

One way to consider whether CWHA helped to increase household income for eligible families with severely disabled children and young people across the winter months is to examine the number of payments that were made. According Official Statistics[11], a total of 18,315 CWHA payments were made for winter 2020/2021, with a total value of £3.7 million. For winter 2021-22, a total of 19,865 payments were issued, with a value of £4.0 million.

It is also worth noting that the Scottish Government initially reported that 14,015 payments were made in winter 2020-2021, with a total value of £2.8 million.[12] However, following the eligibility expanding to include those young people on the enhanced rate of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), there was a policy commitment to backdate the CWHA payment to enable as many homes as possible to benefit.

To get a better insight into how CWHA increased household income, it is beneficial to also consider the diversity of people receiving CWHA. Table 1 presents secondary analysis of Official Statistics data on the number of payments by age, socioeconomic status, and rurality.

Table 1. Proportions of CWHA payments by age, socioeconomic status, and rurality [13]
Child age-group Winter 2020-2021 (n = 18,315) Winter 2021-2022 (n = 19,865)
0-5 13% 12%
6-10 29% 28%
11-15 32% 33%
16-18 27% 27%
Recipient[14] age-group
18-24 1% 1%
24-34 21% 20%
35-44 41% 42%
45-54 25% 25%
55+ 6% 6%
Unknown[15] 5 5%
SIMD Quintile[16]
1 (most deprived) 32% 32%
2 23% 24%
3 18% 18%
4 16% 16%
5 (least deprived) 11% 11%
Unknown – Other - -
Unknown - Scottish - -
6-fold Urban Rural Classification
Large urban area 32% 33%
Other urban area 40% 40%
Accessible small town 8% 8%
Remote small town[17] 3% 3%
Accessible rural area 12% 12%
Remote rural area[18] 4% 4%
Unknown – Other - -
Unknown - Scottish - -

The commissioned qualitative research gives insight into the positive impact that CWHA had on recipients’ income and budget over the winter months. Participants highlighted that the additional household income was welcomed and appreciated, and that it helped them to be able to cope with the demands over the winter months.

“I have to say I welled up – I had tears in my eyes when I saw the payment had come in. I can’t tell you what a difference that made to our household budget over Christmas. We knew we could do something nice for my child for Christmas because we had the extra money in our account. We were not expecting it – so it was a huge surprise and a huge relief”

(CWHA recipient)

“I had a wee cry to myself when I saw that the CWHA money was in – I wasn’t expecting it and when I saw it I knew we would be able to keep the house warm. December and January are dark and cold, and we have an old house that is hard to keep warm. The payment meant that it wouldn’t be a cold, hard winter”

(CWHA recipient)

Reductions in financial pressure regarding increased heating costs

The Client Survey collected information on the overall impact of receiving CWHA.[19] Respondents were asked to rate, on a scale of 0-10 (‘not at all’ to ‘a lot’), how much their benefit payment (a) helped them to pay for what they needed, (b) helped to make a difference to their life, and (c) helped them to control their finances. The average scores for respondents who had received the CWHA benefit on behalf of the child or young person (n = 206) were:

  • 8.1 out of 10 for “help you to pay for what you needed”
  • 8.0 out of 10 for “help make a difference to your life”
  • 7.2 out of 10 for “help you to control your finances”

Although not a direct measure of financial pressure, these three factors can serve as proximal measurements as they give insight into financial impact of the payment which likely impacts on individuals’ experience of financial pressure. Of these three measures, respondents were relatively less sure that it had helped them control their finances compared to being able to pay for what they need and make a difference to their life.

In the commissioned qualitative research report, participants also confirmed that receiving CWHA helped to reduce experience of financial pressure. From a practical sense, recipients were acutely aware that December, January, and February were the months in which heating bills are most expensive. They reported that the extra money facilitated them being able to meet those extra heating costs while not having to save by cutting down spend for food and other essentials. This highlights the financial impact of the payment which likely impacts on individuals’ experience of financial pressure. Furthermore, recipients spoke about financial pressure in relation to their wellbeing, noting that CWHA had helped to reduce their money worries and anxieties regarding increased heating costs over the winter months.

“If you’re stuck at home all the time, you end up watching the news to pass the day and all you hear about is the increasing costs of heating bills. I was so worried that I wasn’t going to able to afford my heating this winter. It was such a relief when the money came through. It really took the pressure off”

(CWHA recipient)

Increased ability to heat the home during the winter months

The Official Statistics provide data on when CWHA payments were made, which can help give an insight into recipients’ ability to heat their homes during the winter months. For the winter 2020-2021 payments, 73% of payments were made by the 31st of December 2020[20], in line with policy commitments. Note that this calculation also takes into account those payments which were backdated (23%) due to the eligibility criteria expanding to include those on the enhanced rate of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in November 2021. For winter 2021-2022, 93%[21] of payments were made before the 31st of December.[22] However, it should be noted that this is based on payments issued by 31st March 2022, and this percentage may change in future if any backdated payments have been made since then.

Findings from the commissioned qualitative research highlighted that CWHA allowed families of severely disabled children and young people to turn their heating on for longer periods, especially in the child or young person’s bedroom.

“…their bedroom is their safe haven…”

(CWHA recipient)

This was particularly important for families with children and young people with irregular sleeping patterns; CWHA allowed them to heat the home throughout the night. CWHA also allowed parents/families to put the heating on a little earlier so that their child was returning from school into a warm home, whereas in previous winters the heating would go on when they got in. Furthermore, a number of participants noted that they were able to have a good supply of hot water which was seen as an important part of the care routine for their disabled child or young person.

Mitigation of additional heating costs over the winter

The commissioned qualitative research highlighted that CWHA helped to alleviate the additional heating costs over the winter period. Indeed, the vast majority of participants said that they used their CWHA to immediately pay their energy provider, either to pay off outstanding balance they may have had or to pay the entire amount as a one-off payment. This helped them to reduce their monthly energy bill direct debit to as low as possible at the start of winter, and mitigate additional heating costs. Other motivations to do this were Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis. Participants explained how these situations had further exacerbated the additional heating costs that they were already facing in order to care for their severely disabled child. That CWHA gave them the opportunity to pay into their energy accounts was therefore seen as a particular benefit.

Progress towards medium-term goals

Increased Health and Wellbeing

Respondents to the Client Survey who had received CWHA only (n = 206) rated that the payment helped make a difference to their life on an average of 8.0 out of 10 (where 0 = “not at all” and 10 = “a lot”), suggesting an indirect positive impact on health and wellbeing.

In addition to participants’ expressing the aforementioned decreases in financial pressure as a result of receiving CWHA, participants of the commissioned qualitative research were also asked about the ramifications if they were to not have received CWHA. Participants commonly noted that, if they had not received CWHA, they would have experienced more stress with regards to worrying about being able to meet increased heating costs over the winter. Specifically, the stress would be caused by the knowledge that non-payment of heating bills would lead to increases in subsequent heating bills, making their financial situation worse. Participants also talked around the recent significant increases of heating bills and noted that this would also exacerbate the problem, making it even more difficult to “catch-up” with bills.

If they had not received CWHA, participants said that another stressor for them would be the difficulty of having to choose between whether to pay the heating bill or buy good food for their family. Others also expressed this difficult decision in relation to paying their heating bill or cutting back on what they spend on food more generally. This highlights the cumulative impact that no CWHA payment would have on other household budgets. Specifically, participants stated that they would have to cut back on food spend, would be unable to buy fresh food, have to rely on low-cost supermarket nearing sell-by date offers, and that they would have to plan every meal in order to work within a restricted budget.

“I know this sounds dramatic, but it would really mean that we would have to cut back on what we could spend on food. For us it would be a choice of paying the heating bill or going hungry”

(CWHA recipient)

Participants also spoke about the direct positive impacts of CWHA, where they were able to proactively manage the direct debit payments to their energy provider. This was seen as important to reduce monthly payments at the start of the winter. Being able to proactively manage payments could potentially lead participants feeling more in control of their finances.

However participants were uncertain over whether they were going to receive CWHA. Indeed, the letters that notified participants of their eligibility tended to be paid after they had received CWHA. Participants said that this resulted in them not being able to plan as efficiently as they could if they were aware, which could potentially inhibit feeling in control over finances.

Supporting people with payment costs at a point in time when it is most needed

January and February tend to be the coldest winter months, and therefore arguably when the heating bills will be at their highest. Given that 73% of payments for winter 2020-21 and 93% for winter 2021-22 were paid prior to December 31st, this suggests that the vast majority of payments were made before the heating bills were at the highest, potentially when they were needed most.

Respondents to the Client Survey who had received the CWHA payment only (n = 206) also rated that the payment helped them to pay for what they needed on an average of 8.1 out of 10 (where 0 = “not at all” and 10 = “a lot”). Helping recipients pay for what they needed was in fact the highest rated positive impact of the three that were asked about in the survey, the other two being helping to make a difference to recipients’ lives and helping recipients to control their finances.

For winter 2020-21, participants of the qualitative commissioned work also clarified that they kept the CWHA payment aside to cover the January heating bill, suggesting that receiving CWHA before this heating bill would be optimal to meet recipients’ needs.

“January is usually the biggest heating bill every year. We received the CWHA payment of £200 last year, so I knew that if I held on to the money that would allow me to pay off the full months’ worth of heating when the bill came in”

(CWHA recipient)

In contrast, recipients used the Winter 21/22 CWHA payment to either clear off any outstanding balance they had, or to make a one-off payment to ensure their energy providers account balance was in credit. This suggests that timing was less important this year. The main reason provided for the differences between the two years was the cost of living crisis, which encouraged recipients to keep on top of their bills more. Given that the cost of living crisis will likely continue into this year, it seems that CWHA payment will help to meet needs with regards to heating bills irrespective of the time in winter that it is paid.

Indeed, participants in the qualitative commissioned research voiced that they would prefer that CWHA was paid before Christmas, with desire for the payment being made in early December. One point of view was that the payment be made in November to allow for budget planning over the Christmas period, where the majority of participants wanted to minimise their direct debit payments by setting their monthly bill to as low as possible at the start of the winter period. Nonetheless, another point of view was that earlier payment may results in the payment not being used for what it is intended.

“I can see some families using the money to cover Christmas costs. If the money is in, then it’s going to be really tempting to use it for Christmas – it depends on how disciplined people are with their budget”

(CWHA recipient)

Mitigating against financial difficulties/insecurities over time

Unfortunately, the available data does not give any direct insight into the proportion of families who are currently experiencing financial difficulties and insecurities, and therefore it cannot give a direct insight into how CWHA has impacted on these families to mitigate current financial difficulties or insecurities. Equally, it is difficult to measure the impact of CWHA against financial difficulties or insecurities over time as this would require longitudinal data that is simply not yet available given the age of the benefit.

However, when considering those who might currently be in financial difficulty or currently facing financial insecurities, Scottish Household Survey statistics do highlight that higher proportions of those living with limiting disabilities are living in more deprived areas than those with limiting disabilities living in less deprived areas[23]. This does indeed follow the trend of CWHA payments by SIMD quintile highlighted in Table 1, where higher proportions of payments were made to those in more deprived areas. Although it should be noted that the figures from the Scottish Household Survey also likely include those who are not eligible for CWHA (those who are not receiving the highest rate of the care component of DLA or CDP nor the enhanced rate of the daily living component of PIP and ADP). It should also be noted that SIMD is not a direct measure of financial difficulty or insecurity and therefore it cannot be assumed that those living in the most deprived areas, for example, are currently experiencing financial difficulties or insecurities.

The commissioned qualitative work does provides some insights into the hardships that people are already facing. Although it should again be noted that this does not necessarily mean that they are currently experiencing financial difficulty or insecurity. Nonetheless, participants spoke about difficult choices they face such as heating the house or buying fresh food for their family, and highlighted that CWHA helped prevent them from facing these choices.

“We do everything we can to make sure we give our daughter as normal a life as possible, but if we hadn’t received the money, the first thing we would have had to cut would be the quality of fresh food. That would break my heart because she would probably notice us cutting back on things.”

(CWHA recipient)

“I think it shows that the Scottish Government really cares and understands how hard it can be being a full-time carer – sometimes the choices are stark – putting good food on the table for your child or paying the bills. It’s a constant struggle. The extra money at Christmas really does feel like a Christmas present”

(CWHA recipient)

With regards to mitigating against any experience of financial difficulty or insecurity, respondents to the Client Survey who had received the CWHA payment only (n = 206) also rated that the payment helped them to control their finances on an average of 7.2 out of 10 (where 0 = “not at all” and 10 = “a lot”). Though this rating was markedly lower than the other two positive impacts asked about in the survey (helping recipients to pay for what they needed and helping to make a difference to recipients’ life), it was still positively weighted towards helping recipients a lot compared to not helping them at all.

Furthermore, the commissioned qualitative work asked about recipients experiences of the payment for both winter 2020-21 and winter 2021-22, which helps to give an initial insight into the positive benefits of CWHA over a two year winter period. Recipients highlighted that CWHA has helped them feel more in control of their finances as well as help them to be able to keep up with their energy bills over the winter months. Participants also spoke about CWHA helping them to pay off outstanding balances they may have had with their energy provider straight away in winter 2021-22. While for winter 2020-21, they kept the money aside for their January bill. This highlights how recipients have used their payments differently over both winter periods, but both in ways that have helped them to mitigate against the experience of financial difficulty or insecurity.

Indeed, when asked about what would have happened had they not received CWHA, participants spoke about the high risk of falling behind on their energy bill payments over the winter months, and the difficulty in recovering this over the summer months due to the recent energy cost rises.

Other outcomes

Families feel difficulties meeting increased heating needs have been recognised

In the qualitative commissioned work, without being prompted, participants stated how grateful they were for the CWHA payment and were hugely appreciative that Scottish Government had recognised the financial pressures they were facing.

“I moved here from England a few years ago and let me tell you – you have to fight for every penny in benefits there. I couldn’t believe it when we found out we had qualified for the CWHA payment. It’s not available down there and I think that shows that the system is much more caring here”

(CWHA recipient)

Participants also highlighted that a particular advantage of CWHA was that it was an automated payment that did not require an application process. Indeed, the automated nature of the payment seemed to help families feel that they were entitled to the benefit.

“I think the Scottish Government are doing a great job with this – no application process is a real godsend – it also says that they recognise just hard it can be to look after a disabled child and they are doing their bit to help us”

(CWHA recipient)

Issues with communication

However, the qualitative commissioned research did also highlight the need for better communication from Social Security Scotland, where participants noted that they were unaware that they were eligible to receive CWHA, whether they were going to receive the payment, that the payment could be used for needs other than energy bills, or that the payment was to be made on an annual basis. One reason given for the first two points was because the letter that notified participants of their eligibility, of the purposes of the benefit, and of the payment dates, arrived after they had received the payment.

Participants commonly suggested digital communication as a potential alternative to posting notification letters. Although it should be noted that the level of information that is required by law to be provided with a notice of award cannot feasibly be given by text. Nonetheless, improving the timing of the notification letter as well as offering different methods of sharing information about CWHA could therefore help improve understanding of the purpose of the payment, perhaps further increasing the feeling that recipients’ needs have been recognised.

Progress towards longer term goals

As set out in the tackling child poverty delivery plan[24], the Scottish Government has been delivering support for families and children across a range of policy areas, including social security. These actions are intended to contribute to a range of long-term government goals, the following of which are relevant to CWHA:

  • Children and young people have access to a full range of opportunities
  • Children and young people have the best start in life

CWHA will play a small but important role to working towards achieving these goals. However, these goals are highly complex and multifaceted. Indeed, CWHA is one of a number of ways in which the Scottish Government is trying to tackle these issues. A package of policies has been proposed by the Scottish Government in which these policies are expected to have cumulative impact.[25] However, it should be noted that the impact of disability benefits, including CWHA, on the longer term goals is particularly difficult to estimate given that these benefits are significantly underreported.

Measuring the impact of CWHA would also require (a) suitable time to have passed since the payment was introduced, and (b) access to more robust and suitable quantitative data than is currently available. It should also be noted, however, that isolating the specific role of CWHA would be challenging even with additional data.

Nonetheless, it can be reasonably expected that success against CWHA’s short and medium-term goals could help to contribute to the Scottish Government achieving its long-term goals. For example, meeting the heating needs of families with severely disabled children or young people likely makes some progress towards positively impacting on these children and young people having a better start in life.



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