Vulnerable energy consumers may lose bills help Some companies to cap gas and electricity help

10 October 2011

Electricity pylons

Families struggling with their gas and electricity bills could miss out on vital help this winter, if energy companies limit the number of customers eligible for grants.

Energy suppliers currently offer cheaper 'social tariffs' to help their most vulnerable customers, but these will be replaced this winter by the Warm Home Discount scheme - a £120 payment to help those struggling to pay their energy bills.

But according to figures obtained by the BBC, not all households which should be eligible for the Warm Home Discount, will get the cash.

Find out more about energy help available in our guide to energy grants.

Help with energy bills

Under the Warm Home Discount scheme - which will be managed by energy companies - pensioners who receive a guarantee credit element of pension credit will automatically receive the money towards their winter bills.

But energy companies should also help a ‘broader group’ of people who struggle to pay energy bills, in line with government guidelines. Suppliers have a degree of discretion over which of their customers make up the 'broader group', and how many to help, based on their market share.

Grants for energy customers

Which? contacted the largest energy companies to find out how many customers they were planning to help under the new Warm Home Discount.

  • British Gas told us it will offer the Warm Home Discount to all its eligible customers, which includes those with a household income of below £16,190 who spend more than 10% on fuel for adequate heating, or receive certain benefits.
  • Npower told Which? it was expecting to help around 90,000 customers through the Warm Home Discount, including eligible pensioners and customers receiving certain benefits.
  • Scottish Power said it was still deciding which customers would be eligible for the Warm Home Discount, but those who receive certain benefits were likely to be included. Scottish Power will cap the number of people it will help, but this number is yet to be announced.
  • Scottish and Southern Energy told Which? it was too early for it to say which customers, and how many, would be eligible for the Warm Home Discount. It said it has around 210,000 customers on its current Energyplus social tariff.
  • EDF said it will help around 70,000 pensioners and 42,000 customers on certain benefits under the Warm Home Discount scheme.

Eon is yet to respond.

Social tariffs replaced

Which? energy policy advisor James Tallack says: 'With social tariffs being phased out in favour of the Warm Home Discount, it's essential that all of the fuel poor get the help they need under the new programme.

'If you qualified for your supplier's social tariff, you should be eligible for the Warm Home Discount.

'While it's encouraging to see companies like British Gas giving reassurances that no eligible customer will lose out, with over six million households in fuel poverty this issue is too important to leave to the discretion of individual suppliers.

'Ofgem and suppliers can do more to help poorer consumers by adopting the Which? proposals for simpler energy tariffs. Low users - who are far more likely to be in low income groups - currently pay 23% more than higher users for gas due to the way tariffs are currently structured.'

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