New figures published by Age UK show that the Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) Alternative Fund, designed to give a crucial £400 to households that receive their energy supply indirectly via a landlord, site owner, or other intermediary, has completely flopped, having failed to reach almost 4 in 5 of all those eligible.
Sadly, 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, in the face of soaring fuel bills.
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, help which seems set to be really important this winter as we know the cost-of-living crisis will continue to bite.
New Freedom of Information data requested on behalf of Age UK reveals that of the Government’s estimated 883,000 eligible UK households with atypical supply arrangements, only around 17%, equivalent to about 150,000, were actually awarded the £400 of energy support available this year.
Eligible care home residents were the least likely to successfully access the EBSS alternative fund, with only around 1 in 14 of them (7%) receiving the £400 energy help. This compares to around a third of park home and houseboat residents (35%) and over half of eligible heat network users (58%).
Based on Government data, Age UK found around 13% of eligible households in the North-East and 13% in London, where fuel poverty rates are higher, were able to access the EBSS Alternative Fund, compared to 22% of eligible households in the South-East where fuel poverty is lowest.
|Region||Eligible Households||Households awarded £400 payment||Proportion of eligible households awarded||Fuel poverty rate by region|
|Yorkshire & The Humber||60,900||10,130||16.6%||15.9%|
Calls to recommit remaining funds
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 simpler application process and 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 CBE, Charity Director of Age UK said: “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.
“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 also urging any older person living on a low income or struggling with their bills to contact Age UK’s free Advice line on 0800 169 65 65 to check they’re receiving all the financial support available. Alternatively, people can visit www.ageuk.org.uk/money or contact their local Age UK for information and advice. For further information about the cost-of-living crisis, please click here.