A scheme that helps UK pensioners pay their energy bills is to be expanded this winter, to include an extra 200,000 people.
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This year, anyone signed up to the Pension Credit Guarantee will qualify for the Warm Home Discount scheme, which offers £140 to each affected household.
Hundreds of thousands of people of working age but on low incomes are also set to benefit. Overall, it is thought more than two million people will be eligible this winter.
The grant, which is paid for by energy companies, comes in the form of either a discount applied directly to a customers’ energy bill or a voucher for pay as you go customers.
However, critics of the scheme say not enough is being done to promote it, as many eligible households are expected to miss out. Homes that qualify will receive a letter giving further instructions by December 24, but the charity Age UK has said that a third of pensioners who qualify will not claim the discount.
“Clearly much more must be done to encourage these older people who need extra help the most to claim everything they are entitled to, so they don’t have to struggle through the winter,” Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told the BBC.
Any bill payers that believe they ought to qualify for the discount but do not receive a letter are being encouraged to contact their supplier, as some energy firms use alternative eligibility criteria.
A survey published in September revealed that energy bills are consumers’ biggest spending worry this winter, far ahead of their weekly shop and Christmas presents.
Significantly, the poll also found that 46% of households are more concerned about being able to afford their energy bills this winter than they were in 2013.
This came after figures published during the summer suggested that around 2.3 million households across the UK are living in fuel poverty.
While the expansion of the Warm Home Discount scheme has been welcomed, campaigners say the best way to tackle the crisis is to make Britain’s ageing homes better insulated.
“Ultimately the only viable long term solution for fuel poverty is to make people’s homes truly energy efficient, and as quickly as possible,” said Abrahams.
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