The Government is being urged to look again at the winter fuel allowance after new research revealed that over eight in ten consumers (82%) would like to see payments go only to those living in the UK. The findings suggest that an overhaul could prove a popular move – almost half of consumers believe winter fuel payments should be means tested (49%), while almost six in ten think eligibility should be based on health as well as age (58%):
Winter fuel payments currently go to anyone born on or before 5th July, 1951, but six in ten (60%) think people with disabilities should qualify for winter fuel payments – 52% believe lower income households should benefit too
Over half (55%) think the winter fuel allowance should automatically increase in line with inflation
Two thirds of consumers (66%) think recipients should be allowed to opt-out of winter fuel payments if they do not need the extra cash
Consumer confusion: despite the recent spotlight, four in ten consumers (41%) do not know how much the winter fuel allowance is, while less than two in ten (18%) are aware that anyone born on or before 5th July, 1951 is eligible.
Consumers would give the Government a green light to overhaul the winter fuel allowance, according to new research from Uswitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service. Over eight in ten (82%) would like to see winter fuel payments restricted to those living in the UK, while the consensus is that eligibility should be based on more than just date of birth.
Currently the allowance goes to anyone born on or before 5th July, 1951. However, almost half of consumers (49%) want winter fuel payments to be means tested, while almost six in ten think health should be taken into account as well as age (58%). With households battling with the rising cost of living, over half (55%) also think that payments should automatically increase in line with inflation.
But while wishing to see eligibility tightened in some areas, many also want to see the allowance go to a broader range of people, including those with disabilities. Six in ten (60%) believe that people with disabilities should be entitled to the money while 52% think lower income households should get the extra help. Almost a quarter (23%) think the unemployed should get the extra cash to help with winter energy bills.
The high profile campaign by wealthier, celebrity ‘pensioners’, such as Joanna Lumley and Esther Rantzen, has also touched a nerve. Two thirds of consumers (66%) think that people should be allowed to opt-out of winter fuel payments if they can afford their energy bills without them. At the moment, those who don’t need the cash cannot give it back.
But despite the media spotlight, consumers are also confused about winter fuel payments. Four in ten consumers (41%) do not know how much the allowance is (£100 – £300 a year) and just 18% are aware that anyone born on or before 5th July, 1951 is eligible.
Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at Uswitch.com, says: “With household energy bills at a record-high, winter fuel payments can be a life-line for state pensioners struggling to get by. Our research shows overwhelming support for the allowance to continue, but a growing recognition that payments could be better targeted at those who actually need the extra help.
“Almost seven in ten households (69%) have gone without heating at some point this winter to keep their energy costs down, while over a third of people (35%) say that cutting back on energy usage is affecting their quality of life or health – up from 15% last year. Limiting winter fuel payments to those living in the UK and giving wealthier recipients the right to opt-out could prove popular moves and would put more money in the kitty for those in greater hardship.
“Britain is on the cusp of an energy affordability crisis and while the Government should do all it can to help, consumers must also protect themselves. There are two simple steps we can all take to keep a lid on our bills: use less energy by making our homes more energy efficient and make sure we are paying the lowest possible price for the energy we do use. There is currently almost £250 difference between the cheapest and most expensive tariffs on the market – this could make a huge difference in helping people to afford to keep warm.”
In response to: “Which of the following statements do you agree with – choose all that apply?” 82.2% said that ‘winter fuel payments should only be paid to those living in the UK’, 57.6% agreed that ‘eligibility should be based on health as well as age’, 65.8% agreed that ‘people should have the option to opt out of winter fuel payments if they can afford their energy bills without it’, 48.6% agreed that ‘the winter fuel allowance should be means tested (i.e. paid according to income), 55.3% agreed they “should automatically increase in line with inflation.”
When asked who they think should get the winter fuel allowance, 60.2% said ‘the disabled’, 52.4% said ‘lower income households and 22.8% said ‘the unemployed.’
When asked ‘Do you know how much the winter fuel payment/allowance is’, 59.1% correctly chose ‘£100-£300 a year’ while 40.9% chose incorrect options or ‘don’t know’.
When asked: ‘Do you know who is eligible for the winter fuel payments/allowance’, 18.4% correctly chose ‘anyone born or before 5 July 1951’, 59.7% chose ‘any pensioner’ and 31.3% chose ‘the disabled’.
In response to: ‘Have you gone without heating this winter to keep your energy costs down?’ 50.6% said ‘occasionally’, 16.5% said ‘regularly’, 1.7% said ‘always’. This adds up to 68.8% who went without heating at some point this winter.
In response to: ‘Do you think you’re achieving the right balance this winter between keeping your home warm and managing costs?’ 34.9% said ‘No – the cutbacks I’m making are affecting my quality of life and/or health.’ Last year’s findings come from research conducted with the Uswitch.com Opinion Panel amongst 1,225 respondents in January 2012.
Based on a medium user customer using 3,300 kWh of electricity and 16,500 kWh of gas – E.ON’s standard cash and cheque price is £1,370 a year on average while SSE’s Discount Energy Bonus April 2015 (with paperless billing) costs £1,134 a year on average – a saving of £236 a year.
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Uswitch is the UK’s top comparison website for home services switching. Launched in September 2000, we help consumers save money on their gas, electricity, broadband, mobile, TV, and financial services products and get more of what matters to them. Last year we saved consumers over £373 million on their energy bills alone.
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