Social Security Experience Panels - Low Income Winter Heating Assistance: survey findings

Results of survey asking the Experience Panels members their thoughts on the new Low Income Winter Heating Assistance benefit in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection

Final thoughts

We asked respondents to think about all the proposed changes to a new benefit in Scotland that would replace Cold Weather Payment and tell us their views. As noted previously there have been positive and negative responses, as well as comments that consider both sides. Many respondents suggested additional components to the changes. For example, while it has been noted that a one-off payment is better than a 'cold spell' dependent assessment, the amount should be higher.

Some respondents have suggested that the existing 'cold spell' assessment works fine, others have recognised that people living in colder parts of Scotland will be worse off under the new proposals, and that people living in other parts of the country will receive more money than they have done in the past.

Some respondents have suggested that the changes for the proposed new benefit don't go far enough to help people on low incomes to heat their homes, even though they are a move in the right direction. Some have said that is possible that an element of unfairness may become evident in the new system, not just because of the geographical location of some people on a low income, but also because of the configuration of a living space (number of rooms in a dwelling, and number of persons living there). Also, cold weather can have a worse effect on those persons with certain disabilities and health conditions.

Some positive 'overall' responses

"I think the fact it is guaranteed and up front is helpful in planning."

"I think it is a much better idea, as it will help more people on low incomes, it's very hard to determine when there will be a 7 day period of minus zero degree temperatures, and its variable on where you live, so this new method is more fair."

"I think it's a good idea. The current system is too strict and is also something of a postcode lottery as it depends how close someone lives to a weather monitoring station - it might be below freezing in the person's area, but not at the monitoring station."

Some negative 'overall' responses

"This as usual doesn't work for the north of Scotland... On a bad year we would in many postcodes see more than 2 weeks where the weather can be below 0. In my house, £50 doesn't come close to covering the extra for 14 days when we hit such temperatures…"

"It is not enough. In a cold winter it could be freezing for 8 weeks, which [under the current system] would be £200 towards survival in a semi-detached home. It's just not enough for the fuel challenges we are facing and those in colder rural areas will be penalised by this change."

"The system should stay as it is, with payments being made when a cold snap occurs bellow a certain temperature."

"It depends on the winter we get. I have not been putting my heating on as I am too worried about my next bill. Instead I have been stuck in bed to stay warm. I know my brother is doing the same. My winter bills were bad enough before, but with all these rising costs, I don't know if I will manage to pay my bill when it comes in."

Some mixed 'overall' responses

"Appreciate any further assistance but £50 for weather in the Highlands region is a bit low. However the existing system is not good, 7 days of freezing temperatures when you have severe health problems requiring warmth to allow movement and reasonable comfort is essential. I can only heat one room in my home and have no running hot water. I shower only weekly and use baby wipes inbetween. I never thought I would ever be in these circumstances."

"Great idea to make the changes. However, given recent changes to the world of utilities and the world in general, I'm not sure the payment is enough. Are there plans to link the payment to inflation?"

"It's a useful starting point. It doesn't take into account the size of property. A three bed family house costs more to heat than a one bed flat. It doesn't take into account regional variations. Some areas get a lot of snow and ice, others don't. It doesn't take into account people with disabilities who may spend more time indoors in winter. This can lead to even higher fuel bills because they're not mobile. Lastly, it might help to consider an additional payment for severe winters."

After explaining the rationale for the new benefit in Scotland that is due to replace Cold Weather Payment, we wanted to know if Panel members could think of any unexpected situations that might arise because of the plans for the Low Income Winter Heating Assistance.

Some respondents talked about how it is not just cold between December and February, and recognising that people in colder areas of Scotland may well be worse off if the eligibility criteria is not based on freezing temperatures. Other respondents commented about how it might discriminate against certain people, for example, people who lose their jobs and take up benefits just after the 'qualifying week'. It mentioned that the proposed criteria will disadvantage people reliant on solid fuel or are users of pay-as-you-go meters. Other respondents mentioned that the benefit should reflect price increases.

"A farmworker in a part of Scotland that regularly has bad winters is on Universal Credit all the time, but in the qualifying week they get a few extra hours of harvest overtime - NO Universal Credit that week because they earned a little too much, No Winter Heating Assistance. They live in an old poorly insulated tied cottage with old inefficient electrtic storage heaters, we have a really severe winter, they get nothing and heating costs them a small fortune. Same winter, a shop worker in Glasgow claims Universal Credit because they've had their hours cut for a few weeks and are claiming in the qualifying week, soon after they get more hours again because some staff move on, then a Christmas rush loads of overtime they have never been better off, they live in a nice well-insulated new build, with a low cost efficient central heating system and the winter isn't that bad in Glasgow, but they qualify for Low Income Winter Heating Assistance. Someone loses their job the days after the qualifying period, no job prospects, severe winter but NO winter heating assistance. Just? Fair? Some parts of Scotland typically get more than £50 in a year with the system we have will lose out. There are loads of issues, but we just can't design a system where the potential for serious injustices are built in from the start and as it stands this looks like that is exactly what is happening."

"Benefit suspensions that are subsequently reversed could punish some people. Should be facility to challenge these."

"This is a very complex issue that affects so many families in massively different circumstances and one way or another some people in greatest need will suffer however it is paid."



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