NEW FIGURES published by Age UK show that the Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) Alternative Fund, designed to give £400 to households that receive their energy supply indirectly via a landlord, site owner, or other intermediary, has failed to reach almost four in five of all those eligible.
Hundreds of thousands of older people living in park homes and care homes, among others, have therefore missed out on financial support that could have made a significant difference to them. As a result of this failure, £300 million in unspent funding is due to return to Treasury coffers, but Age UK is calling on the Government to improve and re-run the scheme instead, so everyone gets the help to which they are entitled.
The new data obtained by Age UK reveals that of the Government’s estimated 883,000 eligible UK households with atypical supply arrangements, only around 17 per cent, equivalent to about 150,000, were actually awarded the £400 of energy support available.
Around 13 per cent of eligible households in the North-East and 13 per cent in London, where fuel poverty rates are higher, were able to access the EBSS Alternative Fund, compared to 22 per cent of eligible households in the South-East where fuel poverty is lowest.
Eligible care home residents were the least likely to successfully access the fund, with only around one in 14 (seven per cent) receiving the £400 energy help. This compares to around a third of park home and houseboat residents (35 per cent) and over half of eligible heat network users (58 per cent).
Rather than simply keeping the unspent money from the fund, as the charity believes the Government currently intends, Age UK is calling for the remaining £300 million to be recommitted to the scheme and for the process of applying for it to be made more straightforward, thereby increasing take-up. The Charity has previously advised that the money should be paid out automatically wherever possible, rather than it always having to be claimed. It has also called for a government funded communication campaign to be targeted at the groups who are eligible.
Longer term, Age UK continues to press for the introduction of a ‘social tariff’ so that vulnerable people of all ages always receive a discount on their energy bills. The Charity believes that people in need should be able to get this cheaper tariff regardless of how they receive their energy, including those reliant on indirect supply arrangements and covered by this fund.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK said: “Unfortunately, we have now established that most older people who receive their energy indirectly and who were eligible for £400 to help them with their bills, never actually received their money. In fact, almost four in five of them totally missed out.
“The process designed by the Government to distribute the funding was flawed so we’re not surprised the scheme has flopped, but rather than siphoning off the unspent £300 million for other purposes we call on the Government to do the right thing and improve the scheme so these older people get the money they are due. After all, with energy bills expected to stay high this winter, they are going to need all the financial help they can get.
“More than half a million households have missed out on this financial support as a result of the fund’s failure, many of them older and living in park homes and care homes. We know the fees have gone up substantially in care homes because of rising costs for everything from energy to food, so the extra £400 could have really helped some residents to continue to make ends meet.
“The need for this extra funding certainly hasn’t gone away and that’s why we think the Government should try again to get the money out to everyone in line for it, rather than giving it up as a bad job, to the benefit of Treasury coffers but at the expense of older people in need. It’s not too late for Ministers to act and we very much hope they will.
“The responsibility on Ministers to resurrect and improve this funding scheme is surely all the greater when you consider that some of the areas with the biggest concentrations of older people who have missed out on the funding also have above average levels of fuel poverty.”
* Age UK is urging any older person living on a low income to contact its free Advice line on 0800 169 65 65 to check they are receiving all the financial support available. Alternatively, people can visit the money advice section of their website, here or contact their local Age UK.
* Source: Age UK