By Maximilian Clarke

Consumer Focus and National Energy Action are warning that the UK Government’s flagship scheme to help the poorest households in England to make their homes warmer and cut their energy bills, is set for up to a £30 million underspend this year.

This means many older people, families and people with long-term health problems will miss out on much-needed help.

The Warm Front scheme — which offers heating and insulation improvements to households living on low incomes — is expected to see up to a fifth of its £143 million worth of funding for this year going unclaimed. This money could help up to 16,000 households struggling to afford their energy bills to cut their costs by a potential £650 per year.

“The poorest pensioners and families will have been hit particularly hard by high energy prices,” commented Audrey Gallacher, Director of Energy at Consumer Focus. “Many are living in cold homes, which could put their health at risk. It is very disappointing that people who need Warm Front help to make their homes warmer and cheaper to heat are likely to miss out. We’d urge anyone who thinks they may be eligible to put in a claim. This help is free and can make a big difference in affording your energy bills and keeping warm and well.”

Warm Front has seen a dramatic decline in applications for help this year. In April to December 2011 less than 40,000 people applied for a Warm Front grant compared to over 130,000 applications in the same period in 2010. The scheme was oversubscribed in 2010 but the funding was cut by almost two thirds this year.

A combination of factors are likely to have led to this fall in applications. The eligibility criteria were made stricter and the Government did not advertise the scheme as it was anticipated demand would again exceed supply. The milder winter weather may mean not as many people have been driven towards the scheme, but it is also seems that the number of advice organisations referring people to the scheme must have dropped significantly. They are likely to have been concerned people would end up not getting the grant given eligibility restrictions and the much smaller funding pot.

Consumer Focus and National Energy Action are urging people to put in a claim now before the funding for this year ends on 31 March. People on certain income-related benefits and living in homes that are poorly insulated or do not have a working central heating system are eligible for Warm Front grants. Anyone who is eligible for Cold Weather Payments can claim the grant such as: older people receiving pension credit; families with a child under five and in receipt of Income Support, Income Related Employment and Support Allowance or income based Jobseeker’s Allowance; and people with higher rate disability premiums.

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