4. Qualifying week
This chapter presents an analysis of Q23, Q24 and Q25, which address the proposed qualifying week for LIWHA. An individual's entitlement to LIWHA will be based on their entitlement to the qualifying benefits during the defined qualifying week, rather than during a period of cold weather. This approach is taken to identify recipients for the current Winter Fuel Payment (WFP) and the Scottish Government's Child Winter Heating Assistance (CWHA). It was suggested in the consultation that the qualifying week be set for the third week in September, to be consistent with other winter heating benefits being paid across the UK.
Q23. Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to set a 'qualifying week' during which eligible clients for LIWHA will be identified?
Q24. If you disagreed, please could you explain why?
Q25. If you agreed, please indicate a preference for when you think the qualifying week for LIWHA should be?
Among all respondents (119)
No. of comments
Just over two-fifths of respondents (41%) agreed with a proposed qualifying week during which eligible recipients for LIWHA will be identified. One third (34%) disagreed, 23% were unsure and 3% did not answer this question. Individuals held mixed opinions (39% agreed, 35% disagreed and 25% unsure), while organisations were more likely to agree (47% agreed, 31% disagreed and 17% were unsure). There were 109 open-ended comments about the qualifying week: 53 in response to Q24 and 56 at Q25.
People may miss out if circumstances change
The most common reason for disagreement was a concern that people who become eligible after the qualifying week would not receive a LIWHA payment that winter. Respondents argued that circumstances and therefore the benefits people receive can change quickly, but the current proposals make no provision for supporting those who begin receiving qualifying benefits after the qualifying week. This view was expressed by many respondents including Save the Children, Inclusion Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Scottish Women's Convention and a few local authorities such as Glasgow City Council and Shetland Islands Council.
"We understand the need for a cut-off point to determine who is eligible for the payment but very clearly this will mean some people will miss out if they are not in receipt of a qualifying benefit in the qualifying week. Family circumstances can change quickly and leave households who were just managing in a situation, suddenly struggling to pay bills and provide food and essentials for their family." – Save the Children
"There are significant concerns that using a qualifying week will deprive those on fluctuating earnings (such as gig economy or seasonal workers) of any support when they most need it. In addition new claimants who make their claim after the qualifying date in September will be deprived of any assistance throughout an entire winter." – Inclusion Scotland
A small number noted that some families with children would lose out if they are born after the qualifying week. This is described in more detail in the analysis of responses to Q34. At the stakeholder event, OPFS noted that qualifying week could have a disproportionately negative impact on single parents, who are mostly women.
To address this concern, some respondents, including the Poverty Alliance and Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, suggested the qualifying week should be extended. Alternatively, one individual suggested there could be two or three qualifying weeks over the winter. Age Scotland called for "a further intermediate period to capture new recipients of qualifying social security entitlements" if there is more than two months between the qualifying week and payment date. Family Fund suggested a discretionary fund to support people who were ineligible during the qualifying week but need support over the winter.
"The eligibility period could be extended, potentially to include anyone who receives a qualifying benefit at any point during the winter; this would be in line with the policy intent and ensure that more households would benefit from the support. It would be in line with SCoSS [Scottish Commission on Social Security] recommendation that Child Winter Heating Assistance is paid to any child who receives a disability benefit payment at any point within the winter period." – Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland
Confusion about the approach
Some comments indicated the proposal had been misunderstood. A few respondents thought that recipients had one week in which to submit an application; two perceived the qualifying week to refer to a week of cold weather; and two believed that Social Security Scotland would only have one week in which to identify all eligible recipients.
Support for qualifying week approach and timing
Although Q24 asked for reasons for disagreement, there were also comments in support of implementing a qualifying week. Some respondents (including two who indicated in their closed question response that they were unsure about the proposed approach, two who agreed and two who disagreed) observed that it would make the benefit easier to administer, particularly in terms of identifying recipients without the need for an application process.
Some respondents, including two local authorities, Family Fund and a housing association, supported the proposal for the qualifying week to be the third week in September. A few of these explained that this approach is consistent with other winter heating benefits and one noted that it allows time for any appeals. Two other respondents suggested different weeks in September.
Preferred timing of qualifying week
The most common suggestion in response to Q25 was for the qualifying week to be in January. Respondents who made this suggestion included Save the Children, Carrgomm and Argyll and Bute Council. Most did not give reasons for their view, but two individuals explained that people often experience financial hardship in January due to the expense of Christmas. Save the Children advocated two qualifying weeks: one in October and one in January to allow for a payment date in November and another in February.
Second most common in comments about the qualifying week were calls for it to be in December. Most respondents who suggested this did not explain their view, other than the Poverty & Inequality Commission for Scotland, which explained that it would be helpful to schedule the qualifying week closer to the month when it is intended to make payments (February).
Calls for the qualifying week to be as close as possible to the payment date were echoed by some other respondents including OPFS, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, and Age Scotland. These respondents did not suggest a specific alternative time. Similarly, National Carer Organisations did not state specifically when they thought the qualifying week should be, but emphasised that it should be in time for payments to be made in January.
"If the qualifying week is used, it should be as close as possible to the payment date to ensure that those most in need at the time of payment receive the payment." – Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland
"The qualifying week should be no more than one month before the payment date. If there is a longer gap there could be numerous changes to the qualifying benefits." - OPFS
There was less widespread support for the qualifying week to be in October, November or February. These months were each suggested by a small number of respondents, while one individual called for the week to be "towards the end of the winter when fuel bills/arrears will be at their highest".
Two did not give a specific time when they felt the qualifying week should be but felt it should be aligned with other heating benefits such as Child Winter Heating Assistance.
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