This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 30 October
The text here may not be identical to the published text
Many people in Scotland will be warmer than those in England this winter thanks to devolution. The new Scottish Parliament has decided to raise the Government grant for insulating homes for pensioners, disabled people and poorer households from £315 to £500. The new Scottish programme – called ‘Warm Deal’ – will help insulate an estimated 25,000 homes this winter.
All parts of the United Kingdom have schemes to save energy and keep people warmer. But as energy conservation is one of the many topics devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly the schemes look set to diverge further as each devolved authority makes its own rules.
The Home Energy Efficiency Scheme was started in 1991 and 3 million homes have been insulated and improved as a result. The scheme is targeted at low income households and people with disabilities. In addition, anyone aged 60 or more can qualify for a small grant even if they do not have a low income. In order to qualify, the household has to contain somebody who gets either a means-tested or a disability benefit. The qualifying benefits include income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit, and the income based jobseeker’s allowance – but not the national insurance jobseeker’s allowance paid for the first six months of unemployment. It also includes the new Working Families’ Tax Credit and the Disabled Person's Tax Credit. Apart from the means-tested benefits, disabled people also qualify if they get attendance allowance or disability living allowance or the similar benefits paid on top of pensions for industrial or war injuries.
People who qualify get a grant to cover some energy efficiency measures. In England and Wales the grant covers one of the following
- 150mm of loft insulation – existing insulation can be topped up to this level, or
- Cavity wall insulation – where suitable, or
- Upgrading heating controls – such as fitting thermostats on radiators, or
- Draught-proofing windows and doors.
Until two years ago homes could have more than one of these measures. But from July 1 1997 the scheme was cut back. However, the following three items can be added on
- Energy advice
- Hot-water tank jacket
- One or two low energy lightbulbs.
The total cost of the plan cannot exceed £315 per home in England and Wales. The scheme in Northern Ireland is similar though the maximum grant is limited to £305. But in Scotland new money agreed by the Scottish Parliament means that the grant can be up to a £500 and can include more than one of the first four alternatives. So a suitable home in Scotland could get draught-proofing AND insulation.
In addition to the standard grant which is available to people who get one of the qualifying benefits, anyone aged 60 or more can get a smaller grant of up to £78 towards the cost of energy saving measures.
The scheme is run by a commercial organisation called Eaga which licenses suitable local contractors to carry out the work.
A recent report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found that although the scheme was targeted on poorer families, 40% of those helped by it were not in what it called ‘fuel poverty’ - a combination of low income and high heating costs. So the government is planning to change the scheme. From next April the small grant for people over 60 who do not get a means-tested or a disability benefit is being ended. And households without children – however poor – will not get a grant at all.
However, the amount of the basic grant will be raised to £700 to include any energy efficiency measures which the home needs. Where there is expensive heating, such as paraffin or full rate electricity, the grant can be up to £1000. And there will be a higher grant of up to £2000 for people aged 60 or more which will include fitting central heating in the main rooms.
The Government will introduce the new scheme in England from April 2000. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will make their own decisions about enhancing their schemes, though the Government in Westminster is making extra funds available to them.
Around 7 million people will be getting £100 handout from the Government this winter to help with the cost of keeping warm. The Winter Fuel Payment has been raised to £100 and will be given to each household where a pensioner lives. If two or more people qualify at the same address they will get £50 each or £100 between them. People in hospital or in a care home may not get it. The payment will be made by giro or direct transfer into a bank account. Despite its name, the money can be used for any purpose. It is NOT a means-tested payment and will go to every household where there is someone who gets retirement pension or where there is someone aged 60 or more getting income support. The qualifying date for getting these benefits is 22 September 1999 – so people whose 60th or 65th birthday fell on September 23 will be unlucky.
0800 512 012 contact a local energy advice centre.
0800 072 0150 Eaga.
0800 289 404 Help the Aged Winter Warmth Line.
0645 15 15 15 Winter Fuel Payments helpline.
30 October 1999