Charity calls for fuel help urged for poor families

girl by radiator Save the Children says children's health cold be put at risk by cold homes

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Energy companies are being urged by the charity Save the Children to do more to help British families struggling to heat their homes this winter.

The charity says 800,000 of the poorest families qualify for a £120 discount on fuel bills in 2011/12, under the new Warm Home Discount Scheme.

But it says a funding shortfall by energy companies means only 25,000 families will get this discount.

Energy UK said many more families would get help from their energy companies.

Through the Warm Home Discount Scheme, eligible pensioners in England, Scotland and Wales receive a rebate of £120 on their energy bills.

But the energy suppliers should also give this discount to other customers in vulnerable groups, for example, those on low incomes with disabilities or long-term illnesses, or those with children.

'Flawed'

However, Save the Children says the scheme is "fundamentally flawed" because it does not require the energy companies to provide enough funding to support all households on low incomes and at risk of fuel poverty.

Its report said: "Despite research which shows that the risk of living in fuel poverty is almost the same for low income families as it is for pensioners, the government has decided that only poorer pensioners will form the 'core group' automatically eligible for support.

Start Quote

The scheme urgently needs millions more from the energy companies”

End Quote Justin Forsyth Save the Children

"The 'broader group' are eligible for, but will not automatically receive, the discount because payment is at the discretion of each energy company.

"In effect, because most energy suppliers have a cash-limited amount to offer the broader group, the warm home discount will operate on a first come, first served basis."

Energy UK, which represents the gas and electricity industry, said all the major energy companies had been writing to their customers promoting the help that was available.

Director Christine McGourty said: "Almost £180m was spent last year on voluntary schemes to help nearly two million of the most vulnerable customers, and that figure will increase to £250m this year.

"Following consultation, the government decided who will benefit from core funding under the new Warm Home Discount Scheme, and those customers will get an automatic discount off their electricity bill without needing to apply for it.

"A wider group of 650,000 people by 2013/14 will also benefit."

'Stark choice'

But chief executive of Save the Children Justin Forsyth said: "It's unacceptable that 97% of the UK's poorest families who need help heating their homes this winter will get nothing because energy companies have not put up nearly enough money.

"Without this help the choice for parents is stark - cut back on food, get into debt or risk their children's health because they can't afford to keep them warm.

"The scheme urgently needs millions more from the energy companies, or the cost will be counted in children's futures."

The charity is calling for the six major energy companies to ensure all families are eligible for Cold Weather Payments receive the Warm Home Discount, saying this would support at least 800,000 of the poorest families.

It also wants companies to transfer all pre-payment meter customers and all customers in debt on their bills onto the cheapest tariff.

And it urges the government to invest in energy efficiency measures.

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