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.

Cold Weather Payments

Cold Weather Payments are made to households on certain benefits during continued periods of cold weather. Payments are made automatically when the average temperature is recorded or forecast to be zero degrees (centigrade) or below for seven consecutive days between 1 November to 31 March. The payment is set at a fixed amount of £25 for each seven day period of cold weather. Payments are usually made within 14 working days of the event and paid directly into the bank or building society account used for benefit payments.

Experiences of Cold Weather Payments

More than half (58 per cent) of survey respondents said that they had received a Cold Weather Payment.

Table 13: Have you ever received Cold Weather Payment before (n=125)
Response options (select one) %
Yes 58
No 34
I don't know 8

Of these, more than three in five (63 per cent) respondents said that their experience of Cold Weather Payment was "good" or "very good". More than a quarter (27 per cent) said their experience was "neither good or bad" and one in ten (10 per cent) said that it was "bad" or very bad".

Table 14: How was your experience of Cold Weather Payment? (n=73)
Response options (select one) %
Very good 32
Good 32
Neither good or bad 27
Bad 5
Very bad 4

When asked what was good about the Cold Weather Payment, respondents highlighted the fact that it is paid automatically into their bank account without needing to apply. Others commented that it was paid quickly after the cold spell.

"I got it as scheduled, sometimes when I had forgotten or hadn't realised it would be coming in."

"Always got it at least five days after so not too long to wait for it."

Some also said that the payment eased financial pressures, and allowed them to heat their home without as much worry during cold spells. For example it allowed them to heat their home rather than just a single room, or keep the heating on "for a few hours longer".

"It helps us out as we have a severely disabled family member and due to fuel costs we only heat his room unless we get a fuel payment then we can heat one more room for a day or two"

Some also highlighted increasing heating costs as an issue and commented that the payment helps towards that.

What could be improved about Cold Weather Payments

However, there were some areas that they felt could be improved about the Cold Weather Payment system. A number felt that the payment is not enough to cover additional fuel costs, or argued that the criteria for issuing payments were too strict.

"It is better than nothing but still a miserable pittance."

"It's too low and too long a period for to get the payment. Why it was increased from 3 days to 7 days consecutive days is appalling. You could die after the first cold day. The payment should be increased."

Many said that they would like the criteria for when payments are issued to be reviewed. In particular respondents wanted to see a change to the requirement for seven consecutive days at or below freezing temperature, with suggestions including either a shorter timeframe for consecutive days, or a specified number of days below freezing temperature within a week/month.

Many felt that this current requirement made it very difficult to plan, as it is not possible to know whether the weather will change. This meant that people did not always feel confident to put on their heating even in extremely cold weather.

"You can't turn up the heating even when its freezing with the payment in mind. You could have 6 days where the weather temperature conditions meet the criterion but if on the seventh day it the temperature rises to above freezing you don't get the money for the 6 cold below zero days. so you cannot rely on it. Even when its freezing."

A number of respondents suggested that the temperature cut-off was too strict, and that older people and those with a disability or long term health condition may well find it very cold before the temperature drops to freezing. Some also pointed out that the criteria do not account for wind chill, or for differences in temperature within a region. People pointed out that the temperature can be two or three degrees lower just a few miles away from a weather station.

The measurements are taken 25 miles from where I live. We've had at least two seven-day periods of cold weather this winter (puddles were frozen) but because it was warmer [at the weather station], we didn't get a payment despite the increase in energy consumption.

Respondents suggested there should be more consideration of such variation in temperatures within geographical regions, or the ability to challenge how your eligibility is measured. For example, if someone lives in a hilly area but decisions for their area are measured at sea level. Particular concerns were raised regarding the higher cost of fuel for many living in rural areas whose energy supply is off-grid.

"It again does not reflect the increased costs living rurally brings. If your on the gas grid then you can probably afford to run your heating daily and the CWP lets you turn up the heat on the cold days . Rural heating is we are all living in fuel poverty most of the time so turning on the heating can be expensive."

Some also felt that the temperature requirement itself should be reviewed, and that it is currently too strict and does not account for factors like wind chills. A number of respondents felt that individual circumstances should be taken into account - for example or the type of home or insulation in the property, or if there is someone in the household with a disability which affects their ability to regulate their body temperature.

"Look at severely disabled people who have lots of life saving and essential electrical equipment and can't regulate their body temperatures. Sometimes my son has a 13.5 tog plus a 10 tog quilt on with an extra fleece over his feet and a hot water bottle in his room that we try to keep warm. In the rest of the house we use jumpers, quilts and hot water bottles to keep warm. We can't close doors as we need to hear if my son is shouting from his room."

A number of participants felt that consideration should be given to how to support those with pre-paid meters. Suggestions included advanced payments at the start of winter months, or making sure that payments are made more quickly. It was felt that for these people the wait for a payment can be too long, and not at the point of need.

"Some paid in advance for those most in need, ie. those with pre-payment meters."

A number of respondents said that it should be better communicated when payments are being made - for example by using local media to publicise when the threshold for payments is reached, or by sending people text notifications. However, there was also a view that sending letters to all participants is an unnecessary administrative cost.

Some also said that the eligibility criteria for who gets the payment should be reviewed - with some feeling that they are too strict and that people on Employment Support Allowance should also be eligible. Others felt that payments should only be made to those one low incomes.

"It shouldn't be given to people on higher level incomes but people on lower incomes such as pension credit."

A few respondents said that there was not enough information available about the payment. It was also suggested that there should be more holistic support and advice around insulating your home and saving on heating bills to help people reduce the cost of heating overall.

Cold Weather Payment Letters

Respondents who had received a Cold Weather Payment were asked whether they had received a letter to tell them that they were getting the payment. Two thirds (67 per cent) said that they had received this letter.

Table 15: Did you receive a letter to tell you that you were getting a Cold Weather Payment? (n=69)
Response options (select one) %
Yes 67
No 17
I don't know 16

Almost all (97 per cent) of the 46 respondents who received the letter said that they understood why they were getting it. When asked if there was anything they would change about the letter, a number of respondents said that they felt that it was wasteful to post letters about this as the payment is clearly marked in bank statements. Some suggested email or text notifications as an alternative. It was also suggested that receiving a DWP letter can be a worrying experience for people - one person suggested a different envelope colour for "good news".

Some respondents also said that they had received the letter after they had received the payment, and that it would be useful to get the letter first. It was suggested that the wording of the letter could be clearer or simpler, and that the format of the letter could be made to be more accessible, for example by having a larger font size.

Timing of the payments

Respondents were asked whether they thought that the timing of the payment was helpful. Almost three in five (59 per cent) "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that the timing was helpful. One in eight (13 per cent) said that they "disagreed" or "strongly disagreed".

Table 16: Do you agree or disagree that the timing of the payment was helpful (n=71)
Response options (select one) %
Strongly agree 25
Agree 34
Neither agree or disagree 28
Disagree 10
Strongly disagree 3

Many respondents said that the payment was helpful and that they were able to put it towards the next bill.

"Comes when you need it most"

However, a number of respondents said that it was very rare that they receive the payment, even when it has been very cold, or that they found it very hard to predict.

"I can't remember as said before it rarely happens. I check the post code checker usually to be disappointed. Even though where I stay has been freezing."

A particular issue was raised for those who have prepayment meters. For these people receiving the payment two weeks after the cold spell is too late to be able to heat their home when they need to most.

"I didn't have money to put in the meter."

"Paid some weeks after first of such events. Those with prepaid meters require upfront payments? Perhaps use weather forecasts to trigger payments?"

One in six (16 per cent) respondents who had experience of Cold Weather Payment said that they had at some point expected a payment but not received one.

Table 17: Have you ever expected a payment but not received one? (n=73)
Response options (select one) %
Yes 16
No 63
I can't remember 21

Among those who said that said that they had expected a payment but not received one, the main concern came from people who felt that the temperature where they live was different to the one measured for their area, or who said that the eligibility criteria were too strict.

"Frozen, cold below freezing, heating on, cannot get warm but no payment."

"It was below zero here so I hoped for a payment but [location of weather station] was much warmer so I didn't receive it. It happened several times."

A small number of participants also said that they had experienced errors where the payment hadn't been processed or that they had not been on the list for the payment despite being eligible.



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