New support announced for people struggling to pay soaring fuel bills
More than 400,000 low-income households in Wales will be eligible for a £200 payment to help keep their homes warm this autumn and winter.
The Welsh Government is investing £90m in its Fuel Support Scheme as a result of the impact the the cost-of-living crisis is having on those struggling to pay their energy bills.
Last year around 166,000 households on universal credit, legacy means-tested benefit and working tax credits benefitted from the £200 Winter Fuel Payment.
The extension of the fuel support scheme for next winter will mean nearly 200,000 more households on child tax credits, pension credits, disability benefits, carers allowance, contributory benefits and those receiving help from the Council Tax Reduction Scheme to pay their council tax bill will now be eligible.
Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt said the scheme was being extended so the most vulnerable could afford to keep their homes warm during the cold winter months.
“We know a lot of households are feeling anxious and worried about their rising energy bills, so we hope this extension of our Welsh Government Fuel Support Scheme to many more people will provide some comfort in these challenging times.”
The widening of the scheme comes after the minister announced earlier this year that the Winter Fuel Support Scheme payment would be doubled to £200 as the cost-of-living crisis intensified and to support eligible households with rising energy bills and costs.
The extended Fuel Support Scheme also includes the £4m announced last month for the fuel voucher scheme to support those on prepayment meters and households not connected to mains gas.
The extra funding and targeted support comes as households across Wales are struggling to pay higher energy bills, exacerbated by the increase in the domestic energy cap rise in April.
There is expected to be a further rise in the cost of energy and standing charges in the autumn.
“We know people across Wales are struggling to make ends meet during the cost-of-living crisis, as they see inflation, petrol, essential household items and energy bills all rising,” Ms Hutt said.
“We are targeting the Fuel Support Scheme at low-income households and extending the number of those eligible, as we understand how the winter months can be the hardest of the year and families face the difficult choice of heating or eating.
“We are committed to supporting the most vulnerable and doing everything we can to ensure they can get through this difficult moment.”
Not fit for purpose
Responding to the extension of the Winter Fuel Support scheme, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for social justice and equalities, Sioned Williams MS said: “The Winter Fuel Scheme, as it stood, was not fit for purpose – this is why Plaid Cymru was so pleased that our motion calling for its revision was passed in the Senedd earlier this month.
“This action by Welsh Government to extend the eligibility of the scheme to those claiming other types of welfare payments, including carers benefit and disability benefit, is long overdue, as too many people who desperately needed the additional support missed out last winter.
“This must also go hand in hand with an awareness raising campaign to improve uptake of the scheme as we know last time too many households didn’t claim the support they were eligible for.
“Given the energy price cap rise that’s expected in October, Welsh Government must also consider extending this scheme beyond winter.
“Poverty does not adhere to seasonal constraints – this summer’s bills are now as high as those that used to be limited to winter, and because we are not yet out of the cost-of-living storm.”
Rebecca Woolley, Director of Citizens Advice Cymru said: “This is a significant expansion of the fuel support scheme at what we know is a very difficult time for many people.
“All indications point to another big rise in energy costs in October – breaking the £3,200 average annual bill mark – and possibly further again in January. Record numbers of people are accessing crisis support through our services.
“We have advocated for more government support for low income households across Wales. The expansion of fuel support by the Welsh Government will provide some more comfort for people who are at risk of cold homes this winter.”
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