Sarah Newton, Member of Parliament for Truro and Falmouth, has secured assurances from the Government that action will be taken to help more low-income families in paying their heating bills.
Responding to the concerns raised by Mrs Newton’s debate, the Energy Minister, Greg Barker, said that the Government would be looking at ways in which data could be shared more easily between Government and energy companies. This would mean that low-income households with young children could be easily identified and get the help that they need to heat their homes.
Mrs Newton is supporting the Children’s Society campaign to treat low-income families in the same way as low-income pensioners for the Warm Homes Discount. In particular, Mrs Newton called for the standardising of eligibility criteria across all energy providers, automatically identifying eligible families with children and notifying them so they do not have to apply themselves. Taken together, these steps could help up to 120,000 families across the South West.
Currently the Warm Homes Discount, worth £140 next winter, is a discount applied to electricity bills mainly for low-income pensioners. The Departments for Work and Pensions and Energy and Climate Change use their records to identify eligible customers and who their energy company is, and the energy company then applies the discount to their bill. Low-income families with young children, however, do not automatically qualify for the discount and have to apply against a set of criteria which varies between each energy supplier.
Speaking after the debate, Mrs Newton said: “I am very pleased to hear that the Government is continuing to take the issue of fuel poverty so seriously and is building on the progress already made.
“The Energy Minister has given me his assurance that his Department will consult on changes to the Warm Home Discount scheme, that £320 million more will be dedicated to helping the most vulnerable households, and that there will be further improvements to customer service, simplifying the scheme and in particular providing more help to homes who do not have mains gas and face much higher costs heating their homes. Nearly half of all homes in Cornwall do not have mains gas.”
Peter Grigg, Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns at the Children’s Society said: “Sarah Newton MP’s support for our call for all families with children in poverty to get the Warm Home Discount automatically is an important step forward for families across the country that are struggling to make ends meet.
“With Sarah’s help we want put an end to parents having to make harsh choices between giving their children a balanced meal and turning the heating on. It is fantastic that Sarah raised this issue in Parliament today and we are looking forward to working with her to help make sure that no child has to grow up in a cold home.”