Social Security Experience Panels: Pension Age Winter Heating Payment

This report details findings from a survey exploring panel members’ opinions on Pension Age Winter Heating Payment.

Executive Summary


The Scottish Government are introducing a new winter heating payment, called Pension Age Winter Heating Payment (PAWHP). This will replace the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) delivered Winter Fuel Payment (WFP) in Scotland in winter 2024/25.

A survey was conducted with Experience Panels members from November to December 2023, asking for their thoughts on proposals for PAWHP including eligibility, timing of payment, payment rates and the potential impact of the payment on different communities and groups. The survey was distributed to 2,047 panel members. 164 responses were received. This report presents the findings of that survey.

Replacing Winter Fuel Payment with Pension Age Winter Heating Payment

The Scottish Government has committed to replacing Winter Fuel Payment with Pension Age Winter Heating Payment on a like-for-like basis. This means continuing eligibility for all those who have previously been eligible for WFP. The Scottish Government's intention is that this payment will continue to be non-means tested and tax free.

The majority of respondents (71 per cent) agreed with the proposal to replace the WFP with a 'like-for-like' replacement under Social Security Scotland. Only ten per cent disagreed.

Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of respondents agreed with the proposed name of 'Pension Age Winter Heating Payment'. However, slightly more than a fifth (21 per cent) disagreed.

More than four-fifths (83 per cent) of respondents agreed that the proposed format for PAWHP would be an effective way for the Scottish Government to provide financial support to older people.

Timing of payment

The Scottish Government is proposing to pay Pension Age Winter Heating Payment automatically to eligible recipients during November or December, the same payment window as currently used by Winter Fuel Payment.

When asked about the timing for the payment, the majority (80 per cent) of respondents said that the current November – December payment window was the most suitable. Older respondents and those with a physical disability were more likely to prefer the current payment window.

Comments in support of the current payment window referenced minimising disruption, but also emphasised that the payment needs to be delivered on time, as soon as possible.

Those in support of earlier payments stated that they needed to use their heating earlier in the year, or that it would help with advance planning for the winter months.

Those in favour of a later payment suggested that the weather was worse later in the winter, or that it would help with budgeting decisions over the Christmas period.

Eligibility and qualifying week

Survey respondents were asked for their views on eligibility for Pension Age Winter Heating remaining linked to an individual reaching state pension age. Over two-thirds (69 per cent) of respondents agreed. However, just over a fifth (21 per cent) disagreed. Younger respondents were more likely to disagree that the payment should be linked to reaching state pension age.

Qualifying week

Eligible clients for winter fuel payments are identified and paid automatically if they meet the qualifying criteria during the qualifying week. The Scottish Government is proposing to maintain the current timetable for having the qualifying week in September. Four-fifths (80 per cent) of survey respondents agreed with this.

Extend qualifying period

Respondents who disagreed said it was unfair that people miss out on the payment if they have birthdays soon after the qualifying week period. Some suggested an extended qualifying period, or an option for those who have birthdays soon after to make manual applications for the payment.

Eligibility criteria and value of payments

Survey respondents were asked how clear and easy to understand they found the criteria for different values of payment. Most respondents (70 per cent) agreed that the eligibility criteria were clear. However, just over one in ten (14 per cent) disagreed.

Value of payments

There was no clear consensus on the value of the payments, with mixed responses. Slightly more respondents agreed (41 per cent) than disagreed (34 per cent) that the value of payments was appropriate.

However, there was a clear distinction between responses from respondents who live in different locations. Slightly more than half (51 per cent) of urban respondents agreed that the value of payments is appropriate, compared to only 15 per cent of rural respondents. Some respondents suggested that the value of the payment should be higher, referencing increasing costs of living over time.

People in residential care

The Scottish Government is proposing to continue eligibility rules for people who are in residential care. This means that people who are living in residential care during the qualifying week, and the period of 12 weeks immediately before the qualifying week, do not qualify for the 'full' payment rate.

Almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of survey respondents agreed with maintaining the value of payments for people in residential care. Respondents who had caring responsibilities were more likely to agree with the payment rate for those in residential care compared to non-carers.

Around three-fifths (61 per cent) of respondents agreed that people in residential care who are in receipt of Pension Credit should not receive PAWHP. However, a fifth (20 per cent) disagreed.

Receiving the payment

The Scottish Government is proposing to continue to pay clients PAWHP automatically on an annual basis, with a cash payment being made directly into a client's bank account.

Almost all (91 per cent) survey respondents agreed that PAWHP should continue to be provided as a one-off payment each winter. Similarly, almost all (95 per cent) survey respondents agreed that PAWHP should be provided as a cash payment directly into a client's bank account.

Opting out

The Scottish Government intend to provide the opportunity to opt-out of the PAWHP payment ahead of the winter period. For example, where an individual may not require additional support during the winter due to having a higher level of income. Almost nine in ten (88 per cent) survey respondents agreed that people should be able to opt out of receiving the payment.

Support for island communities

Living in island communities can present unique challenges for older people, especially in terms of heating their homes where being off-gas grid can often result in higher energy costs. Survey respondents were asked if there was anything that they felt would be important for the Scottish Government to consider when providing Pension Age Winter Heating Payment for island communities.

Costs and payment value

Many respondents highlighted the higher costs of island living, due to weather, infrastructure and higher fuel costs for off-gas grid households. Some respondents suggested that island communities should receive a higher value payment to reflect these costs, or that the payment could be differentiated by the type of fuel that they used.

Infrastructure and housing

Some survey respondents highlighted that island communities have less robust infrastructure than those on the mainland. A few suggested that there should be additional planning in place to provide for these communities in the event of extreme weather or disruption which could prevent them accessing fuel supplies.

Some respondents suggested that this could take the form of an early payment, or island residents being prioritised to receive payments first. Other respondents noted that housing on islands is often older or in poorer condition, causing difficulties with heating properties and installing improvements such as insulation. Suggestions included prioritising island communities for assistance with new heating solutions such as heat pumps or local energy generation.

Other suggestions

Several respondents noted that the challenges faced by island communities are not unique and were often shared by those living in rural areas, such as the costs associated with solid fuels and less established infrastructure and transport links.

Other respondents suggested that due to the circumstances of island or rural life, higher heating costs, and weather conditions, there should be expanded eligibility for fuel payments. Suggestions included widening eligibility to cover all households that were off-gas grid, including disabled or vulnerable households, or assessing cases on an individual basis.

Other communities and groups

Survey respondents were also asked about any unintended consequences that the proposed format for PAWHP may have on other communities and groups in Scotland. Most respondents chose to answer this question in terms of groups or communities that would also benefit from support with heating costs.

People with disabilities

Many respondents suggested that a fuel payment should also be provided for people with disabilities, as people with disabilities can be affected by cold weather due to their conditions or because they have limited mobility, resulting in higher heating costs. Some suggested that this should be a universal payment, without age limits.

Other suggestions included extending the coverage of the payment through lowering the eligible age for people with disabilities, or including people with disabilities who are unable to work. A few respondents highlighted the additional costs associated with running healthcare equipment or mobility aids e.g. electricity costs from charging devices.

Living situation or housing

Respondents also suggested that other groups may need additional support with heating costs during winter due to their living situation or type of housing. These included people living in caravans or trailers, people who are homeless or have been in prison, or those living in poorly insulated properties.

Redeterminations and appeals

The proposed timescales for redeterminations and appeals relating to Pension Age Winter Heating Payment were outlined in the survey (see section 2.7). Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of survey respondents agreed with the timescales proposed. However, more than a quarter (26 per cent) neither agreed nor disagreed.

A few respondents commented that they disagreed with the timescales as they felt that they were too long, potentially leaving vulnerable older people without extra financial support for heating during the winter months when it is needed most.



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