Friday, 20 May 2011

A Coalition Cold Front descends on Warmfront

In the spirit of ‘all in this togetherness’ the government has cut funding to the Warm Front scheme that provides heating and insulation to the vulnerable and people on low incomes. The Budget has been reduced £300 million last year to £110 million this year and £100million in 2012/13. Of course it is bad enough that people on low incomes will have less opportunity to get their homes properly heated and insulated but the government have put some of their own special touches in that will make matters even worse.

Benefit Entitlement Checks, which were part of the old scheme, have been cut. These helped people who were unaware of the benefits they could claim or perhaps were too proud to claim. This not only helped improve their incomes ( on average by £1850 in 2009/10) but also meant they could become eligible for a Warm Front installation that they previously didn’t qualify for (over 11,000 in 2009/10). It made the scheme a more holistic approach to tackling fuel poverty as it addressed both income and energy efficiency. The Government clearly are wanting to not only restrict the funding on warmfront but also on people who can legitimately claim benefits they are entitled to. Something the Government have done which I won’t argue with is cancelling the voucher scheme for reductions off the cost of central heating to pensioners. This never had any real validity wasn’t based on income and was never properly policied to ensure heating companies weren’t simply profiteering off it, but this is a small consolation compared to the decimation of a valued scheme like Warm Front

On occasions the costs of central heating jobs under Warm Front may not be covered by the grant maximum and so customers are asked to contribute towards the costs. So people in the direst circumstances could be asked to find £300, £500 or more. Sometimes this money can be found from a variety of pots, some local authority monies, though this is becoming limited, Royal British Legion or charities. What the government have done now is to limit the customer contributions ‘offer’ to 30 days meaning that many people may not be able to get the money together in time to arrange to pay for an installation and they will lose out.

When the Warm Front scheme first started a few years ago now there were significant issues with quality of workmanship which I and others took up with DEFRA. Many householders suffered with substandard, dangerous and illegal gas installations. As a result a strong inspection regime was brought into place which helped raised standards. This was vital when many customers are vulnerable and may be reluctant to speak up for themselves. All gas jobs were inspected now only 10% will be inspected.

Low Carbon technologies have been dropped from the scheme offer, though to be fair this was a bit of a shambles in the old Warm Front scheme with very little drive to make this a real offer

The big change is with the eligibility critera. Less people will now be eligible for Warm Front and there will be virtually no promotion of the scheme. This is supposed to demonstrate better targeting of the scheme. Only houses with an energy efficiency SAP rating of under 55 are supposed to be helped by the scheme which may sound reasonable but there will be no proper measurement of this it will be based on assumptions based on some basic questions. For all these reasons I‘ll stick my neck out and say they have restricted the Warm Front scheme so much that I believe it will underspend in 2011/12.

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