Winter Heating Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) Regulations 2020: scrutiny report

The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the draft Winter Heating Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) Regulations 2020 with recommendations for the Scottish Government.

Policy intentions

The purpose of CWHAis to recognise that children and young people in receipt of the highest rate of DLA care component will require significant levels of support both through the day and night. The payment aims to mitigate some of the increased fuel costs these individuals and families experience as a result of requiring to heat their homes through the night and reflect that, for many families, they will also be present in their home more often throughout the day. The assistance is forecast to benefit around 16,000 children in the first year, at a cost of £3.5m.

A household is in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10 per cent of income, after having paid housing costs, on reasonable fuel needs and is not left with enough money to maintain an acceptable standard of living. This is set out in the Fuel Poverty Act, which also sets out a reasonable temperature for the home to support wellbeing and how many hours it should be heated to that temperature.

If someone has a long-term health condition or is in receipt of a disability benefit such as DLA or Personal Independence Payment, they are assumed to need a warmer home e.g. 23 degrees Celsius for the living room instead of the standard 21 degrees. If they are at home morning or afternoon on weekdays, they are assumed to need to heat their home for 16 hours every day, instead of the standard 9 hours on a weekday and 16 hours at the weekend. Thus, these higher requirements and consequently higher fuel costs mean that households where someone is on a disability benefit need a higher level of income to maintain a healthy temperature and to stay out of fuel poverty. Providing a cash lump sum in the winter to families of disabled children with high support needs is one way (although not the only possible way) of reducing their exposure to fuel poverty. It may also contribute to addressing child poverty targets more generally, given evidence that families with disabled children are disproportionately likely to be poor.

The Scottish Government’s impact assessments reflect a well-established evidence base that households including a disabled person can have additional heating requirements and are disproportionately likely to experience poverty, including fuel poverty. However, the statistics presented show the relationship between poverty and disability generally, rather than a specific link between poverty and child disability. While the Fuel Poverty Act identifies people on any rate of DLA care or mobility component as having extra fuel costs, the CWHA is targeted only at children and young people on the highest rate of DLA care component. The reasoning is that, because entitlement conditions for this rate of DLA require a child to need attention or supervision both day and night to qualify, fuel costs will be higher still for these households. This effectively targets the payment at those who need to heat their home for 24 hours a day rather than the 16 hours a day specified in the Fuel Poverty Act.

The Scottish Government is developing a fuel poverty strategy, as required by the Act. Moreover, legislative competence for winter fuel-related benefits will transfer to Scottish Ministers in 2022, at which point there should be an opportunity to review and simplify the plethora of different forms of winter fuel-related provision. In line with the principle of continuous improvement and the objective of progressive realisation of social and economic rights, the Scottish Government should continue to consider the appropriateness of extending additional support with energy costs to a wider range of households including a disabled person as it develops policy on devolved disability and winter heating assistance.

Recommendation 3: The Scottish Government should clarify further the rationale for targeting CWHA only on the highest rate care component and whether it intends to extend eligibility in the future.

SCoSS welcomes the clear policy intention, reflected in simple, straightforward rules in the draft CWHA Regulations, for accessing this assistance and the automation of payments through a shared data agreement with DWP. This is the first time SCoSS has scrutinised regulations which provide for a payment to be administered mainly on a fully automated basis. The automation of payments where possible, particularly where relatively small sums of money are involved, is consistent with social security principle (h) and the Charter commitment to make processes and systems simple, clear and timeous.

However, in circumstances where DLA care component at the highest rate is awarded retrospectively, for example following a revision, supersession or appeal, the policy intention, and hence the regulations, could be more explicit. Clear, detailed guidance will be needed to ensure consistency of decision-making in such situations. Clearly, take-up will be maximised if payments can still be made automatically. However, if this is not practicable, guidance will need to clarify the process to be followed. We note a possible role here for DWP. A child retrospectively awarded DLA at the qualifying rate would have to apply for CWHA, so ideally when a child in Scotland receives a retrospective award they would be signposted to apply for CWHA.

Recommendation 4: The Scottish Government should produce clear, detailed, accessible guidance to ensure clarity about the process when CWHA becomes payable due to a retrospective award of DLA.

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