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.

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Conclusion and policy considerations

The overall aim of this evaluation is to provide the Scottish Government with timely, robust research on the experience of CWHA recipients. Specifically the purpose was to:

1. Evaluate the extent to which CWHA has met its short-term and medium-term policy goals.

2. Assess the likely contribution of CWHA to wider long-term government goals for severley disabled children and their families.

3. Identify any other outcomes relevant to the implementation and impact of CWHA.

The evaluation has shown that CWHA has made significant progress in addressing its short-term policy goals. The evaluation has highlighted that for families with a severely disabled child or young person, CWHA helped to: increase household income across the winter months; reduce financial pressure regarding increased heating costs; increase the ability to heat homes; and mitigate additional heating costs.

This evaluation has also illustrated that CWHA has made some progress towards meeting its medium-term goals. CWHA recipients said they experienced less stress and anxiety around whether they would be able to heat their homes, positively impacting on wellbeing. They also explained that heating their home had a direct positive impact on the health of their child. Furthermore, CWHA recipients spoke about an increased ability to manage their finances by using the payment to meet different needs in winter 2020-21 and winter 2021-22. They also highlighted that CWHA gave them an increased opportunity to provide for their families, for example, being able to also provide fresh food and not having to cut back on food spend.

As described above, it is not possible to provide a direct insight into CWHA’s independent contribution to longer term impacts such as children and young people having access to a full range of opportunities, and children and young people having the best start in life. Indeed, CWHA is only intended to be one of a number of initiatives that has been put in place to tackle these issues.[26] However, given that CWHA has made positive progress towards its short-term and medium-term goals, it is reasonable to assume that CWHA is making a small but important positive contribution to its longer term goals.

Furthermore, the evaluation identified that another positive outcome of CWHA was that families felt that the additional difficulties they faced with regards to increased heating costs were being recognised by the Scottish Government.

Despite this positive progress towards short, medium, and long-term goals, the evaluation has also found some limitations with the current operationalisation of CWHA, highlighting the need for some areas for improvement. Therefore, in order for CWHA to better address policy goals, the following should be considered:

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.

Participants of the commissioned qualitative research commonly expressed a desire for CWHA to be paid at the beginning of December. Though this research was not representative, it does show that this year, with the current cost of living crisis, recipients preferred to use the payment immediately to keep their direct debits low over the winter months. Though it should be noted that last year recipients held onto their payment in order to pay off their January energy bill. These findings suggest that the payments will likely be used differently to meet different needs depending on recipients’ financial situation at the time. Nonetheless, an earlier payment may allow for more flexibility to utilise the money in line with needs.

2. Improve Social Security Scotland communication so that recipients are notified about their eligibility of receiving the payment prior to receiving it, know they can use the payment for other means that meet, or help towards meeting, their heating costs, and know that payment is an annual occurrence rather than a one-off.

There is a need to improve the timing of CWHA notification letters in order to keep recipients informed. Participants of the commissioned qualitative research said that receiving these letters subsequent to receiving the CWHA payment itself caused confusion around eligibility as well as around whether CWHA would be paid out. Addressing this in the future will help to ensure CWHA recipients feel that their needs are being met by Social Security Scotland. Furthermore, the vast majority of recipients of the qualitative commissioned research were not aware that the payment could be made for necessities other than heating bills. Recipients should be made aware that they have the autonomy to use the payment for any means that meet, or help towards meeting, their heating costs.

3. Considering other methods of communication such as text messages or emails for notifying CWHA recipients.

The commissioned qualitative research highlighted an appetite for other forms of communication. Specifically, participants stated that text messages and emails to provide information about CWHA would be beneficial, reduce costs, and a quicker way to communicate. 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. However, using text messages to send supplementary information could be an option to better improve communication from Social Security Scotland going forward. Giving CWHA recipients the option of what form of communication they prefer, whether that be email or post, will also help to ensure that they feel their needs are being met by Social Security Scotland.

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