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.

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The 'qualifying week'

For Cold Weather Payments, eligible people are identified and paid automatically every time a 'cold spell' trigger happens where they live. The Low Income Winter Heating Assistance entitlement will be based on a 'qualifying week' rather than a period of cold weather.

The proposed plan is to find out who is eligible in September. This enables clients to be identified by Social Security Scotland before winter, making sure that they can be told early. This method of using a qualifying week to calculate fuel benefits is the same as the method used to calculate Winter Fuel Payments (WFP), and Child Winter Heating Assistance (CWHA).

Low Income Winter Heating Assistance payments will then be paid the following February. This is because February tends to be one of the coldest months in Scotland, and it makes sense to provide this support when it is needed most.

We asked Panel members if they agreed or disagreed that there should be a 'qualifying week' in September, when Social Security Scotland will find out who is eligible for the new benefit.

55 per cent of respondents agreed with a 'qualifying week' in September, while 26 per cent disagreed. 19 per cent of respondents said they were unsure.

Table 11. Do you agree or disagree that there be a 'qualifying week' in September?
(n=288) Number of respondents % of respondents
Agree 158 55%
Disagree 74 26%
Unsure 56 19%

Some respondents who agreed with a 'qualifying week' in September provided reasons for their answer. These included thoughts about how people will know if they qualify (or don't qualify) early on, and so will be able to plan ahead, and that it takes the worry out of planning for the coming winter. Other respondents simply said that, "there needs to be a qualify date", and that this seems, "sensible", and "fair". A few respondents made specific reference to September as being a good month to have the 'qualifying week', because this is the time just before the winter period is about to begin. It was also noted that because there is, potentially, a six-month period between the 'qualifying week' and the payment of the benefit, this gives certain applicants who think they should qualify ample time to appeal.

"I think it makes sense for Social Security Scotland to plan ahead for budgeting purposes and this will also assist claimants with their personal budgets."

"Ensures that vulnerable people are aware of support early enough and can double check that they are eligible."

"The 'qualifying week' needs to be prior to the winter, to allow the Scottish Government the time necessary to get this system organised to provide benefits to the right people at the right time."

"It gives an ample time period to inform the people who qualify for it. Also gives people who think they should qualify time to appeal."

Some respondents who disagreed with a 'qualifying week' in September provided reasons for their choice. Many negative comments were about how an individual's income can change at any point. Examples provided include people who may lose their job after the 'qualifying week', and start to receive benefits shortly after the 'qualifying week', meaning they would not be eligible for Low Income Winter Heating Assistance even though their circumstances dictate that they should. Some respondents suggested that September was too soon, and that the 'qualifying week' should be nearer the winter period. It was also asked if there was a possibility that Social Security Scotland could have a second 'qualifying week' between September and February.

"Making the qualifying week in September excludes those [who] may start claiming benefits from October onwards. They would receive nothing but would still suffer the cold. This is a very bad idea."

"People's circumstances change very fast, as the pandemic has proved. The speed that someone can go from comfortable, to desperate, in a few weeks, is shocking. A list of long-term people that are expected to qualify, is good. But should not be used to exclude anyone else that finds themselves in need."

"A qualifying week makes no sense. If you're giving the payment based on who's receiving certain benefits, that should simply be a constant rolling list. Your 'qualifying week' suggests that if someone ends up getting on benefits the day after that week, they're not entitled to help."



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