400,000 households to be supported with winter fuel bills
A guaranteed annual winter heating benefit of £50 will be paid for the first time in February 2023 to around 400,000 low income households.
Low Income Winter Heating Assistance will be the Scottish Government’s 13th benefit and replaces the UK Government’s Cold Weather Payments. The UK Government benefit is unreliable for households on low incomes as it only triggers a £25 payment when a ‘cold spell’ requirement is met and temperatures fall below zero degrees Celsius for seven days in a row in a certain place.
Instead, the Scottish Government will invest an annual £20 million in Low Income Winter Heating Assistance, which will provide a reliable payment every winter to help with energy bills.
Plans for Low Income Winter Heating Assistance have been welcomed by people with experience of the benefits system. 90% of members of the Social Security Experience Panel agreed with the plan to remove the ‘cold spell’ requirement, and provide a reliable payment instead.
Social security minister Ben Macpherson said: “Our new Low Income Winter Heating Assistance benefit will provide a reliable payment every winter to around 400,000 eligible households, including pensioners and disabled people. This extra financial support from the Scottish Government will help at this time of rising energy bills and other cost of living pressures.
“Unlike the current Cold Weather Payments, Low Income Winter Heating Assistance will provide support to people irrespective of weather conditions or temperature levels where they live. It will be our thirteenth devolved benefit and will only be available in Scotland. It will also be an automatic payment to all those who are eligible, so there is no need to apply.
“Our £20m annual investment will be a significant increase in support to around 400,000 households – compared with only £325,000 and 11,000 payments made by the UK Government in Cold Weather Payments in Scotland in winter 21-22.
“Making payments in February for the first year of Low Income Winter Heating Assistance will ensure a smooth transition from the UK scheme. We will explore the feasibility of bringing forward the payment date to earlier in winter in future years.
“This winter we will also be extending and increasing our Scottish Child Payment in November, as well as making Child Winter Heating Assistance payments for the third time. Both of these benefits are not available elsewhere in the UK.”
The announcement comes amid a warning from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) about the lasting impact of the cost of living crisis, as it published its latest data report, covering April 2022.
The charity said April was a crunch moment in the cost of living crisis, as the energy price cap increased significantly for households across the country. Across the CAB network advice on utilities – namely energy – was up 62% compared to April 2021.
Specific advice on fuel debts have also increased by 71% compared to last year.
Worryingly, online advice around being at risk of homelessness has increased by 27% since last April, and by roughly a third across the CAB network itself over the same time period.
Citizens Advice Scotland social justice spokesperson Stephanie Millar said: “April 2022 saw a big increase in energy bills for households across the country, and that was reflected in the demand for energy related advice being up almost two thirds compared to April 2021.
“With another big rise likely to be felt in the autumn, we would expect this demand to continue to grow.
“But what is really worrying is the increase in demand for advice around homelessness and debt. That will be the lasting impact of the cost of living crisis – people struggling to make ends meet today are at risk of poverty, debt and destitution in the months to come.
“What this data suggests is the current impact of the cost of living crisis is going to lead to long lasting problems for people, so policy levers to alleviate the crisis must ensure lasting relief.
“In the meantime the Citizens Advice network is here to help. We unlocked £147million for people during the pandemic, people who saw a gain were on average over £4,400 better off. At times like this things can be really tough, but we’re here for everyone regardless of circumstance. We don’t judge, we just help.”