# 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.

## Low Income Winter Heating Assistance

### Replacing Cold Weather Payment

It is proposed that in Scotland, from winter 2022, the provisionally titled Low Income Winter Heating Assistance should replace the current Cold Weather Payment. We asked panel members if they agreed with the plan to replace Cold Weather payment with a new benefit. 82 per cent of respondents said that they agreed, while 8 per cent said they did not agree. 10 per cent of respondents said that they didn't know.

Table 2. Do you agree with the plan to replace Cold Weather Payment with a new benefit in Scotland?
(n=286) Number of respondents % of respondents
Yes 234 82%
No 24 8%
Don't know 29 10%

We asked if Panel members thought that a new benefit replacing Cold Weather Payment is a good way to help towards winter heating costs for people on low incomes. 87 per cent said 'Yes', they thought it is a good way to help towards heating costs, while 7 per cent said 'No'. 6 per cent of respondents said they didn't know.

Table 3. Do you think that a new benefit replacing Cold Weather Payment is a good way to help towards winter heating costs for people on low incomes?
(n=286) Number of respondents % of respondents
Yes 249 87%
No 20 7%
Don't know 17 6%

Currently, Cold Weather Payment is dependent on 'cold spells' which are described as when temperatures are recorded, or forecasted, at or below zero degrees Celsius for seven days in a row. It is proposed that the new benefit in Scotland removes the dependence on 'cold spells' altogether.

We asked if members agreed with the plan to remove the need for a 'cold spell' in order for eligible people to get the new benefit. 90 per cent of respondents agreed, while 7 per cent disagreed. 3 per cent of respondents said they didn't know.

Table 4. Do you agree with the plan to remove the need for a 'cold spell' in order for eligible people to get the new benefit?
(n=288) Number of respondents % of respondents
Yes 260 90%
No 19 7%
Don't know <10 3%

Under the new arrangements for the new benefit, it is proposed that everyone in Scotland who would have been eligible for Cold Weather Payments, will in future be paid a one-off annual payment of £50 each winter instead.

We asked members if they thought that the new benefit should be a one-off, annual payment each winter. 55 per cent of respondents said Yes', while 29 per cent said 'No'. 16 per cent said that they didn't know.

Table 5. Should the new benefit be a one-off, annual payment each winter?
(n=288) Number of respondents % of respondents
Yes 158 55%
No 84 29%
Don't know 46 16%

Following this question, we then asked members if they could explain their answer. While some completely agreed with a one-off payment, others strongly disagreed. Some respondents began with a positive statement but added additional stipulations. For example, some said that although a one-off payment was a good idea, the time when it should be paid should also be considered, as well as the proposed amount.

### Positive responses

Most positive responses noted that an annual one-off payment was good because it meant that people could plan ahead knowing exactly when the payment would be received. Many respondents said that it made the overall system much simpler and easier to understand. Some said that it was a good idea to receive a one-off payment during the coldest part of the year. Others said that because the benefit was a one-off payment, and not dependent on a period of cold weather, they were reassured that they could budget for the payment.

"That way people know that they will be getting it and can budget accordingly, and will help with fuel costs."

"Simplifies the system."

"A one-off payment at winter time makes sense."

"Some years you only got 1 payment if lucky as only 6 days not 7 in a row."

### Negative responses

Most negative responses were regarding the potential for receiving less payments than under the Cold Weather Payment. It was noted that the new benefit would equate to two payments under the Cold Weather Payment criteria, and that many people, especially in rural areas, would receive less money than they have in the past. Other respondents said that it was not a good idea to have a single payment, suggesting that a few regular payments over the winter period would be a much more effective way of helping with heating expenses.

"What if a cold spell lasts for months?"

"It depends. Imagine this scenario: there's a cold winter, triggering three or four payments under the current system. That equals £100. Under the proposed system they would receive less money."

"If it's a one-off payment people are more likely to 'burn it up' in the first couple of weeks and then go cold for the rest of the winter."

"I think that smaller regular payments over the winter period would be more helpful in allowing people to put their heating on regularly."

### Mixed responses

Many responses were mixed. And generally, those who responded this way mentioned that a one-off payment was a good idea, and that the system seemed much simpler, but the amount of the payment was not enough. They suggested that, to some extent, the temperature throughout winter should still be incorporated into the calculation of the payment. And while most of these responses noted that people in rural areas would be penalised against, some respondents mentioned that there would be some recipients who live in naturally warmer areas of Scotland who would now receive money they may not have in the past.

"Yes and no. Yes because that helps with planning. But it's not a lot to get you through an entire winter if temperatures plummet in a really cold snap. I agree with everything in these changes but would like reassurance of a possible 'top up' of say £10 if the weather is below zero for a set number of days (doesn't have to be 7, 3 or 4 is more realistic)."

"After a particularly mild winter like this one, a single payment may suffice for some, but as with every season in Scotland, winters are not consistent. Last year we still had freezing temperatures into early May which required additional heating. Perhaps a payment of £50 at the start of winter, with an additional fund to be possibly distributed depending on the length and severity of ongoing temperatures would be wise. Would it work if this second payment were to be supplied on request? That way people who felt they didn't require it needn't ask, and those who are still struggling can. No questions asked, if you got the first one you need only ask for the second. That may be too complicated, but there are different factors that contribute to winter bills, such as household size. A single person living alone in a one bedroom flat may be managing, whereas a family with children and more rooms to heat may not. Or one person may live in a very poorly insulated old building with drafty windows, and another may be more comfortable and thus require less heating."

Part of the proposed arrangements for the new benefit is that the one-off payment should be £50. Currently this would equate to two Cold Weather Payments of £25, when temperatures are recorded, or forecasted, at or below zero degrees Celsius for seven days in a row. We asked members if they thought a one-off payment of £50 each winter is suitable.

23 per cent of respondents said they thought an annual £50 payment would be suitable, while 59 per cent said they thought it was not suitable. 17 per cent of respondents said that they didn't know.

Table 6. Do you think a one-off payment of £50 is suitable?
(n=286) Number of respondents % of respondents
Yes 67 23%
No 170 59%
Don't know 49 17%

We asked respondents if they could explain their answer. Many people answered only positively, mentioning that they would be better off, and that the system is more predictable and more fair. However, others felt that the payment was not nearly enough, especially due to the cost of living crisis happening at the time of the fieldwork. The majority of respondents gave a mixed response saying that it was a good start but didn't nearly go far enough.

### Positive responses

Most of the positive responses noted that on many occasions recipients had only just missed out on Cold Weather Payments because it didn't stay at or below zero degrees Celsius for seven days in a row. People said they had often missed out on the benefit because it was only freezing for six days. Respondents thought that receiving a fixed payment would be a much fairer system.

"It works out at 2 of the current payments which most areas would be 'lucky' to get under the current system."

"As the winters are getting warmer and warmer, no one meets the [Cold Weather Payment] criteria."

"It's better than the unpredictable and unfair Cold Weather Payment."

### Negative responses

Almost all negative responses were in relation to the £50 amount not being enough to help with heating expenses, especially because of dramatically rising living costs. Many respondents made the comment that there should be more than one payment over the winter period.

"The cost of heating has increased so much that this doesn't cover many hours of heating."

"Currently as a single person living in a 1 bed house my combined Direct Debit is £110 per month, honestly £50 is not even 2 weeks and what would that be over 4/5 winter months."

"Elderly and/or disabled people are stuck in their homes most of the time and when it's cold they have their heating on most of the time. £50 doesn't go anywhere near covering the cost but for it to have any impact then it needs to be spread out, over maybe two or three payments."

### Mixed responses

There were a number of responses that commented on the temperature in Scotland, saying that even though an annual payment of £50 was good for budgeting, it would only help a little. A number of people suggested other options that could be considered, for example, that the benefit could be tiered according to income or by the size of a dwelling.

"I think a one-off payment is a good idea but perhaps an additional payment could be considered if there was an exceptional cold period e.g. another Beast from the East."

"For those struggling the most, no, definitely not, even through a mild winter. Even aside from that there are the variabilities of severity of the season, length of time low temps continue for, insulating conditions from home to home, and household size. All these factors play a part. Should a payment be given based on household size? Each additional room that requires heating being awarded some additional assistance? I do agree that the existing Cold Weather Payment requiring continuous days below zero to trigger a payment is not a suitable system and needs changed, but I'm not convinced that a single payment will be enough for everyone either. I am not currently concerned for myself, but for others in more desperate situations."

### Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot