Social Security experience panels: cold spell and winter fuel payment – report

Findings from research with Social Security experience panels members on the new cold spell heating assistance and winter heating assistance.

Winter Fuel Payments

The Winter Fuel Payment is an annual tax-free supplement paid to people who are over the current female state pension age (whether they are male or female). The aim of the payment is to help towards their winter heating costs. Winter Fuel Payment is paid as a lump sum in November or December and is generally set at a maximum of £200 for each household where both recipients are younger than 80, and at £300 for households where at least one member is 80 or older.

More than half (56 per cent) of respondents said that they had received a Winter Fuel Payment.

Table 10: Have you ever received Winter Fuel Payment? (n=124)
Response options (select one) %
Yes 56
No 40
I don't know 3

Applying for Winter Fuel Payment

Of those who said that they had received Winter Fuel Payment (70 respondents), almost four in five (77 per cent) said that they received the payment automatically, and one in six (16 per cent) said that they had applied for the payment. This accounts for only 11 respondents. Those respondents were asked about their experience of applying for Winter Fuel Payment. A majority (7 of these 11 respondents) said that their experience was "good" or "very good", and the remaining said that their experience was "neither good nor bad" (4 respondents).

They described the application process as "simple" and "quick". Others said that it was good that after the initial application it was automatically applied in future years. They also described how the payment is helpful in meeting the cost of heating bills.

"Helps to pay utility bill especially as the bills go up and up every year."

When asked what was bad about the process or what could be improved, these respondents said that the payment is not enough and does not resolve the issue of fuel poverty. Other said that applying online may not be easy for some people, that there is not enough information widely available and that it should be better advertised to those who may be eligible.

"It is nowhere near enough to cover hardship of paying to heat your home"

"Just make sure everyone that is entitled to it knows about it and gets it."

Over half (6 of the 11) of respondents who had received Winter Fuel Payment, said that they had heard about it through a letter from DWP. The rest said either through a website (4 respondents) or another way. The websites used were, a charity site and an utilities company website.

A majority (7 of the 11) of respondents who had applied for Winter Fuel Payment said that they had received enough information during the application process. The rest said they either hadn't received enough information or that they couldn't remember.

Communications relating to Winter Fuel Payment

More than eight in ten (81 per cent) respondents who received Winter Fuel Payment said that they received a letter telling them they would receive it.

Table 11: Did you receive a letter to tell you that you were going to receive Winter Fuel Payment? (n=70)
Response options (select one) %
Yes 81
No 1
I don't know 17

Almost all (98 per cent) of respondents who received this letter said that they understood why they were getting the payment. They were then asked if there was anything that they would change about the letter. Many respondents said that there was nothing that they would change. However, some listed areas that could be improved. These included making the difference between Winter Fuel Payment and Cold Weather Payment clearer.

"Make the letter simpler and to explain in easy to read the difference between the two payments."

Other respondents commented on the format of the letter, suggesting that alternative formats such as email would be more accessible or would be more cost effective.

Options for off-grid households

Winter Fuel Payments are usually made between November and December. Scottish Government are exploring the option of making early payments to households who are not on the gas grid (known as 'off-grid').

Respondents who have received a Winter Fuel Payment were asked whether their household is off-grid or on-grid. The majority (83 per cent) of respondents said that their household was on-grid (n=70). Only five (7 per cent) said that their household was off-grid and the rest were unsure.

We asked these five when they would want to receive the Winter Fuel Payment. Three said September/October, one said November/December and one said June/July/August. We then asked when it would be acceptable for them to receive the payment - the responses are detailed in table 12.

Table 12: When would it be acceptable to receive the Winter Fuel Payment (n=5)
Response options (select all that apply) number
January/February 1
March/April 0
June/July/August 2
September/October 3
November/December 2

When asked to explain their answer, reasons given for earlier months were that the cost of fuel like wood (for stoves) or oil is cheaper in warmer months so they would be able to buy more for their money and prepare for winter in advance. Those that would prefer the payment in cooler months highlighted that this is when they are likely to face much higher bills and that it is useful to receive the payment around Christmas.

Four of the five respondents said that they would be happy to fill out an application to ask for an earlier payment.

When asked if they had anything further they would like to say about Winter Fuel Payments, comments from these off-grid respondents included that they felt there should be stricter eligibility criteria for pension aged people receiving the benefit to ensure that payments are only made to those who need them. Others commented on the specific challenges faced by those living in rural areas, in particular in rented accommodation that is not well insulated or well maintained by landlords. Other issues included the type of heating and fuel used by many living in rural areas, which can be more expensive than on-grid heating.



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